By Grace Auka Salmang and Melisha Yafoi in Port Moresby
Closing down of nursing stations and medical clinics operated by retail pharmacies will see more than 200,000 Papua New Guineans struggling to access basic health services.
This is because 80 percent of the aid posts in the country are no longer in operation while public health facilities in urban towns are currently stretched.
Health Department Secretary and chairman of the Pharmacy Board and Licensing Authority of PNG, Dr Osborne Liko, gave a 14-day notice in a circular to retail pharmacies to close down nursing stations and medical clinics because their operations are illegal.
Sources within government confirmed with the PNG Post-Courier that this was an administrative directive from the National Executive Council issued to the Health Secretary to implement.
Dr Liko also told the Post-Courier that the circular came about to address illegal operations of nursing stations by retail pharmacies where some were abusing their licence with selling beverages and cigarettes in the same precinct, which is illegal and abuse of conditions of licence of pharmacy retailers.
He said an earlier advice from the Medical Board was raised in 2015 to the Pharmacy Board but was “unscrupulously ignored” to date and the public had taken it for granted that this illegal situation was the norm.
Another warning was issued in July this year.
Safe practice licensing
Dr Liko said registrations of nursing stations for the purpose of therapeutic benefits and health practitioners for competency of safe practice and licence are the jurisdiction of the Medical Board of PNG and Nursing Council of PNG.
“Such practices have had double jeopardy to those clinics and medical centers and hospitals that had complied with Medical Board of PNG and paid their full fees and comply with registration standards were unnecessary disadvantaged by unscrupulous practice of nursing stations illegally operated by the pharmacy retailers industry,” he said.
“All medical drugs must be prescribed to patients by a qualified licensed medical practitioner rather than a nursing officer without causing significant complications to patients’ outcome in the recovery process,” Dr Liko said.
“We have evidence of treatments from such nursing stations by those who are not qualified and incompetent to prescribe such prescriptions from these illegal nursing stations to patients with diabetes, antihypertensive medications and other chronic infections that have had more harm than good for ongoing recovery and safety for those who had taken short cuts for profit and convenience rather than safety.
“In such practice we had more harm, particularly with some dangerous medicines such as misoprostol that caused a death of a young teenager earlier this year 2021.
“When such medicines were not prescribed and managed by specialists rather than having such dangerous drugs readily available without proper vetting and scrutiny by qualified specialist and prescribed by specialist with proper safety guidelines of therapeutic benefit.”
Dr Liko said many of these patients had had fatal outcomes when admitted to hospital over the years.
Other retail pharmacies when reached for comments declined to comment.
‘Unclear’ says major provider
However, as one of the largest health care service providers, City Pharmacy Group Limited through the founder Sir Mahesh Patel, said the idea behind this circular was still unclear as not all pharmacies were practising illegally.
Sir Mahesh said that instead of making a blanket ruling on all pharmacies, the board should only target those operations as the nursing stations were used as referral paths. After a diagnosis was made, patients were referred to the appropriate public or private clinics for further evaluation.
He said CPL had paid all its licence fees with nurses who were registered.
“We have not had any cases in our history. All our nurses are registered with the nursing board and the HEOs are registered with the medical board.
“They are well qualified with an average experience of five years at least.
“The fact remains that the majority of the population cannot afford the high fees charged by private hospitals and clinics thus avail our services. Also the public health system is inadequate, which is a known fact across the country,” he said.
When asked if the pharmacy group intends to begin closing down its stations, Sir Mahesh indicated the group had written to Health Authorities to meet and have a dialogue, while also seeking legal advice.
Grace Auka Salmang and Melisha Yafoi are PNG Post-Courier reporters. Republished with permission.