A costly year in health

In 2022, Jamaicans experienced sticker price shock for drugs and other essential purchases to improve health from local pharmacies, while higher prices for medical supplies and general inflation also fed into medical service providers charging patients more.

Anecdotal reports are that general practitioners added on average between $1,000 to $1,500 to the deductible charged to patients for every visit while that for specialist consultants increased by a higher margin.

A perspective provided by the National Health Fund (NHF) indicates that there was indeed a marked climb in the cost of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies in 2022, although some have also been reduced.

Data provided by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) for 2020 and 2019, the most recent periods for which complete information is available, indicate that imports of pharmaceuticals into Jamaica exceed US$20 million annually ($3 billion at 2022 exchange rates).

Everton Anderson, CEO of the NHF, told the Jamaica Observer, “The NHF purchases pharmaceuticals and medical sundries for the public health sector in Jamaica. The agency has seen increases in the cost to acquire some of these medical supplies for the year 2022; however, we have also experienced reductions in other items where the global demand has reduced.”

Examples of items which climbed in cost were heparin injections, an anticoagulant, which climbed 52 per cent in cost in 2022. Clindamycin Capsule 1, an antibiotic, saw a 28 per cent increase in cost. Meanwhile leuprolide injection, which is a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) Agonists, went up by 10 per cent.

The NHF is an agency of the Ministry of Health and was established in 2003 by the National Health Fund Act. The NHF provides financial support to the national health-care system in order to improve its effectiveness and the affordability of health care for the Jamaican population.

The agency is a major purchaser of pharmaceuticals and health services supplies. Delivery of in-patient and outpatient pharmacy services for the public health sector. This includes the management of the medical warehouse and of over 118 pharmacy locations in the public health system, providing full time and scheduled services. The NHF supports multiple health-promotion programmes to aid in the prevention, reduction and management of non-communicable and communicable disease.

Other items which increased in cost included Sandoglobulin Injection 5g, an immunizing agent, which climbed 22 per cent in cost; and morphine powder 25g, a narcotic which climbed by 73 per cent.

Falling prices

The NHF says that in 2022, as the pandemic ended there were reduced prices for surgeon gowns which declined by 66 per cent , surgical masks which fell by 69 per cent and examination gloves which went down by 67 per cent.

Anderson commented, “the NHF remains vigilant in monitoring prices to get the best value from suppliers. Market shifts occur regularly and suddenly especially in the pharmaceutical industry, therefore, a part of the NHF’s strategic focus is to carry out ongoing global environmental scanning to monitor prices and other changes in the market to ensure continued access to products and that the best value for money is achieved.”

He opined that the main reasons for increases which were seen was that manufacturers and distributors have indicated that they have increased prices due mainly to increased operating costs, increased freight charges, higher demand greater than supply, scarcity of raw materials and rising energy cost.

The agency head said, meanwhile, that NHF is working with the Ministry of Health and Wellness to request a supplementary budget to plug the deficit which came from higher costs for some supplies. An additional $2 billion has been approved for fiscal year 2022/2023.

Imports of pharmaceuticals have averaged US$20 million (over $20 billion in the last two years reported on by Statin. In 2019, Jamaica imported pharmaceuticals valued at US$166.67 million ($22. 21 billion). Comparatively, in the next year 2020 in which the covid-19 virus spread to its shores imports were valued at US$170.80 million (J24.31 billion).

Vitamins which were $80.15 million in 2019 increased to imports of $100.23 million in 2020. Antibiotics valued at $18.37 million in 2019 increased in 2020 $22.29 million.

Vaccines for human medicine $ 364.65 million which fell in 2020 to $274.99 million.

Adhesive dressings and wadding gauze imports were valued at $320 million in 2019. The value of such imports rose to $430.64 million in 2020.

Contraceptives imports were valued at $359.34 million. These imports fell in 2020 to $321. 93 million.

Medications in measured and unmeasured doses, including paracetamol and analgesic were valued at around $19 billion in 2019. Imports rose in 2020 to 19.32 billion.

Cough and cold preparations imports were valued at $649.61 million. These imports fell to $550.2 million in 2020.

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