On Monday 30 May 2011, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights organized a workshop on 'The Reality of Drug Security in the Gaza Strip'.
The workshop was held at the Commodore Hotel in Gaza City.
Speaking at the workshop were Dr.
Wedad Al Qeq, representative of the Palestinian Pharmaceutical Association, Dr.
Munier Al Bursh, general director of pharmaceuticals in the Ministry of Health, Dr.
Abdel Naser Jaser, director of the central pharmacy at UNRWA, and Dr.
Tho Al Faqar Sweirjo.
Other experts, medical professionals and pharmacists also attended the workshop where they collectively called for creating a specialized national committee to supervise drug security, quality, and prices.
Hasan Shaheen, researcher at Al Mezan, opened the workshop by welcoming the participants.
He said that Al Mezan has been following the issue of drug security for several years and that it is concerned about it because pharmaceuticals form an essential part of medical services for Palestinians.
Al Mezan is interested in access to medical services as it is one of the main elements in the protection of the right to health, a right which falls under the umbrella of Al Mezan's main work in economic, social, and cultural rights.
Wedad Al Qeq explained the role of the Palestinian Pharmaceutical Association as a professional association which aims to organize the work of pharmacists.
She talked about the quality of drugs available on the market, stating that most of the drugs available in the Gaza Strip are gifts and donations and therefore are not subject to proper monitoring procedures.
She pointed out that delay to trucks carrying medications at crossings into Gaza mean that drugs often spend too long in inappropriate storage leading to drugs becoming spoilt and ineffective.
She added that smuggled drugs may be entirely ineffective due to lack of proper care and storage.
She called for the creation of a list of needed drugs which could be submitted to donor countries in order to avoid a large number of some drugs and shortages of other drugs.
Tho Al Faqar Sweirjo, the owner of Ibn Al Haitham Pharmacy, asserted the importance of having a complementary health system that includes a doctor, technician, pharmacist, and a nurse in relation to drug security.
He said this system does not appropriately work due to current circumstances.
He asserted the importance of reconsidering pharmacology ethics regarding over-the-counter drugs (medicines that may be sold directly to a consumer without a prescription from a healthcare professional) as there may be a conflict of interest with pharmacists also being run as businesses.
Abedl Naser Jaser explained that UNRWA provide health care services to 70% of the Gaza population and secondary care services to some cases by buying drugs from providers.
He stated that patients are divided into three categories: refugees who carry an UNRWA card, those married to registered refugees and people living in marginalized areas.
Drug purchases are the second biggest item in UNRWA's Health Directorate budget.
UNRWA buys these drugs through international bids and then exports them to its centers.
All these drugs are subject to examinations in the labs of the Ministry of Health in Jordan.
Dr Jaser asserted that UNRWA does not suffer from a lack of drugs (except for during Operation Cast Lead when Israeli forces attacked drug stores in the Gaza Strip).
The UNRWA drugs list includes 250 types of drugs and 50 further types related to first aid health care.
Regarding donations, Dr.
Jaser said that UNRWA has submitted a list to donor countries attached with conditions and specifications.
He added that UNRWA does not receive donations that are not included in the list or that do not match the required specifications.
Muneir Al Bursh said that the list of drugs in the Ministry of Health (MOH) includes 522 types, of which 460 are for the Gaza Strip.
He said that the MOH buys the drugs for the hospitals and pays the bill of the needs of hospitals which is more than 31 million USD.
He warned that about 104 types of drugs are not available to the MOH and that the number of drugs received from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip is less than what has been determined in the budget of the MOH.
He emphasized that the MOH supervises the medicines that formally come into Gaza via crossings but the problem is with the smuggled drugs.
He said the MOH coordinates with those who provide the ministry with drugs particularly UNRWA.
He also stated that the MOH has asked the drug companies to lower prices and that it will intervene and lower prices itself if the companies do not comply.
Participants raised the importance of monitoring the price of drugs and the quality of drugs and increasing the coordination with the drug services providers.
Following these discussions, at the end of the workshop, participants recommended creating a specialized national committee that includes health service providers to set up a system to supervise drug security and quality.
They also recommended that the MOH should monitor drug prices and do more to solve the problem of smuggled drugs.