At 11:45 p.m. on Friday, March 26, 2021, 30% of the Fijian population, or one in three statistically, reportedly suffered a hammer blow after listening to or seeing the Minister of Health and Medical Services give a terrible warning to Parliament on the most commonly used drug, metformin, to treat diabetes.
What Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete said in response to the weekend statement by National Federation party leader Professor Biman Prasad highlighting pitfalls regarding drug shortage and procurement process, including shortage of the basic diabetic drug, metformin, caused a shock wave.
He said in response to Professor Prasad: – “.. metformin has its side effects. If anyone in this House has a heart problem, please don’t take metformin, it will only make it worse ”.
“Honorable Member (referring to Professor Prasad), if you know someone who has a problem in this House, do not take long-term metformin as it can actually cause a serious massive heart attack and die. The safest medicines to take are glipizide and insulin which are available in our health centers, hospitals and under the free medicine program ”.
“Significantly massive heart attack and die,” a grim warning from none other than the country’s number one health minister, protector of health and medical services, is no joke.
You wouldn’t expect him to make a completely incorrect statement either. But that is precisely what it was.
This was a statement which was patently wrong from a minister who spoke like a good operator, of course, much to the delight and taste of his prime minister and his government colleagues.
But extremely painful for the vast majority of the Fijian population. For the second time in as many months, Dr Waqainabete’s “soft” approach to critical opposition issues has been laid bare.
The minister was subsequently forced to admit that his statement was wrong, so why did he say so?
It is clear that the warning about metformin causing massive cardiac arrest and death must have been a smokescreen to cover up the minister’s inability to ensure that metformin was purchased on time by pharmaceutical and biomedical services. of Fiji (FPBS).
He rightly deserves all the condemnations and spankings he has subsequently received from other reputable doctors and medical professionals who obviously know better than the Minister what the best and most common drug is. used for the treatment or management of diabetes.
The biggest killer
Diabetes is the biggest killer in Fiji. In 2018, statistics from the World Health Organization show that the diabetes rate in Fiji has already exceeded the WHO projected rate for the number of diabetic patients in Fiji by 2030. This means that more than 30 % of our population had diabetes – what the WHO predicted to happen in 2030. but tragically hit that mark 12 years earlier. What would be the rate of diabetes in Fiji in 2030 or even now is a guess. But the growing number of people complaining about the lack of affordable medicines to manage diabetes is of great concern. And when metformin, the tablet most commonly used by people, isn’t available, people choose to go without it instead of buying alternatives. Because the alternatives, which also contain metformin, as Professor Biman pointed out in Parliament on March 26, are expensive, with prices ranging from $ 1 to well over $ 4.50 per pill. I know this myself as a diabetic. But Minister Waqainabete did not mention it. He issued such a warning which in itself had the potential to cause complications in heart patients using metformin to manage their diabetes. Pure shock at what they heard from the minister. The political escalation of the minister
and the point scoring, intended only to refute Professor Biman’s claim that metformin, the most vital ingredient in most diabetes drugs, is one of the safest drugs, appeared to be intellectual dishonesty from someone who surely has a basic understanding of drugs. But in his unique style of trying to be a skillful political agent, he made a fool of himself.
Fiji bagpipe players
Incorrect and misleading statements, being economical with the truth, betraying promises and even lying are customary for this government. There are many examples of this ungodly characteristic of Fiji First government.
- 2014 pre-election general – No VAT on basic food products, from the 2016 budget and to date – VAT imposed on basic food products and medicines;
- 2014 after the general election – One laptop per child in schools, later transformed into a tablet per child, then a learning device. Result 2021 – no laptop, no learning devices. Why?;
- 2014 after the elections – Promulgation of a code of conduct to allow the appointment of the Accountability and Transparency Commission. 2021 – No code of conduct and no transparency commission;
- Military coup after 2006 – Restrictions on the number of government vehicles, including the garage for ministerial vehicles
to avoid use after hours. 2021 – The government’s vehicle rental budget is increased to $ 33 million in the current budget and the Prado’s dark-hued departmental vehicles are in use day and night; and
- 2006 – Laisenia Qarase would bankrupt Fiji with corruption and loans 2021 – Corruption increases stratospheric
(according to AG), the rate of detection, charge and suppression of FICAC is abysmal and the national debt has increased from
$ 2.863 billion in 2006 to almost $ 8.3 billion in July 2021 It goes without saying that there are many other examples. What the Minister of Health told Parliament is not the worst example, but it revealed its mediocrity and seriously undermined its credibility. Again, why as some may ask? Why a minister, who has been a leading surgeon, a medical superintendent
of the nation’s largest hospital – Colonial War Memorial (CWM) – and which taught the students who graduated from medical school – made such an incorrect and irresponsible statement that risked completely derailing and destroying efforts to stop the increasing rate of diabetes in the country. country?
As the Minister did not respond to the relevant questions and concerns raised by the head of the NFP, questions remain:
- If the Fiji Pharmaceuticals & Biomedical Services Center (FPBS) is 88% supplied with drugs, why the CWM and
Lautoka hospitals are trying to procure drugs such as Ventolin injections used to treat children for wheezing, Midazolam used in operating theaters respectively ?;
- Is it true that pethidine and morphine are out of stock?
- Is it true that the FPBS, the only authority authorized to import dangerous drugs like morphine, cannot do so for the next three months, thus seriously affecting the operations and palliative care of terminally ill patients due to the total shortage of morphine?
- Is it true that a pharmacy company with ties to Fiji’s first ruling party won the tender to source metformin, but it won’t arrive until the end of this month?
- Why did 24 more patients pay a private pharmacy $ 800 to $ 900 less than a fortnight ago for chemotherapy treatment?
drug to be transported by plane from abroad if it has been available since last week at FPBS as claimed by the minister? Surely doctors should have told patients to wait a week for the drug to arrive before starting CWM treatment.
Earlier this week I received a message from an NFP pillar in Auckland who received a request from an acquaintance of
Lautoka Hospital for help because the hospital is reportedly in shortage of: –
- IV cannulas;
- Plaster; and
- Drugs like morphine, atropine, propofol, which would have forced the hospital to cancel operational procedures.
It is the sad state of affairs that is strangling our public health and medical services. And the minister wants us to live in denial that all is well!
No more promised land
For too long, the majority of Fiji have believed what this government said or handed out as gifts. But
neither gifts nor gifts are no longer received.
At least for the first three years of a second term in government under their own 2013 Constitution. Why? Ten years of economic growth or Bainimarama Boom has:
- Pre-COVID-19 poverty increased to nearly 30 percent from 28 percent during the boom era;
- National debt soaring;
- Unemployment increase;
- This weakened the Fijian dollar, leading to higher import bills;
- Put the sugar industry on life support – an industry that has laid the golden eggs for over a century; and
- Worsening provision of quality health and medical care.
We are in free fall, a downward spiral with almost all of our sectors plagued with disease.
We must save our beloved nation and restore its glory as a beacon of hope.
To make this happen, leaders who complain about not being invited to climate change meetings like children who have lost their homes
the lollipops and their incompetent ministers must go.
And the power of the powerless citizens of Fiji has this golden opportunity in the next general election.
- KAMAL IYER is a former journalist, and is a senior office administrator of the National Federation Party. The views here are theirs and are not necessarily shared by this journal.