TUBERCULOSIS PATIENTS say doctors, nurses and hospital dispensaries are telling them there is a shortage of TB medication and that patients are being given a children’s version of TB medicine.
Patients affected are at Caura Hospital, the designated treatment centre for TB, as well as outpatients assigned to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope.
Newsday interviewed two outpatients and one inpatient, all on the condition of anonymity. All three have expressed fear over the supposed shortage and the mixed messages being sent by Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and doctors at the hospitals.
Newsday spoke with one of the same patients last week, who said she was given the incorrect medicine, and a short supply of it.
TB is a highly infectious disease which requires consistent and regular treatment and can be fatal if not treated properly. Patients must be kept warded until their condition improves enough for them to be discharged. They are then given medicine for a period after their discharge from hospital to complete the treatment.
Symptoms of the disease include coughing for three or more weeks, chest pain, fever and chills.
“We are not receiving the proper medicine or the correct amount,” one of the outpatients said. Instead they were given children’s medicine for TB, which has a milder effect. The medicine, she said, has to be dissolved in liquid and then taken.
She and the
two other patients who were interviewed said they were not told the medicine was for children nor were they directed how to take it.
“I found something strange when I put the pill in my mouth and realised it had a fruity, tangy flavour and began to dissolve.
“I then went on Google and found it: a photo of a child holding the same exact pill. I looked into it and found that the medicine really is for children,” the source told Newsday.
She said she confirmed this with nurses.
“The nurses told me yesterday (Monday) it was the children’s version, because that’s all they have, and they have to ration it. The doctor I saw said there is no medication and they’re hoping for a supply by month-end.” The same outpatient was interviewed last week, while still warded at Caura, and told Newsday then that she had not received medicine on time and on some days, none at all. She claimed the women’s ward sometimes did without the TB medication, while the men would receive it. And one day, the women’s ward received but not the men’s.
After the interview, Newsday contacted Deyalsingh, who immediately rubbished the suggestion of a TB drug shortage.
“Those reports on social media are false,” he said, although Newsday did not receive its information from a social media post.
He told Newsday to call Davlin Thomas, CEO of the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA). Thomas issued a media release that day, saying the NCRHA had TB drugs in stock.
“The NCRHA has 114,200 doses of the TB drug Isoniazid, 3,000 doses of Ethambutol and 3,300 doses of Pyrazinamide.
“While there is a global issue with the drug Rifampin (Rifampicin), the NCRHA is utilizing Rifabutin which is an alternative drug currently supplied by the Ministry of Health, and the CMO has assured that the supply will be replenished when that becomes necessary.”
The patient, however, reiterated the seriousness of her concerns, saying: “I could not care about politics. I have no interest in politics whatsoever.
“Right now, I respect the disease as much as I possibly could, because I’ve done my research. I’m scared. And I have every reason to be scared for my life. There is absolutely no reason for me to make up this story.”
A patient who is still warded told Newsday yesterday: “We are getting a little more in the Isoniazid and the Ethambutol but we are getting less of the rifampicin (Rifampin) and we are not getting any Pyrazinamide.
So we are completely missing one drug. They have not said that is missing or that the rifampicin is on a shortage.
“Also the nurse here have admitted that we are indeed receiving the children’s TB meds, and that’s why they doubled the dose, making it seven pills to take of the kids’ TB meds, which only includes rifampicin and isoniazid.
“When compared to the four combo, which is the adults’ meds, it lacks the amount of milligramme (dosage) we supposed to get, and completely missing the fourth drug (Pyrazinamide).
Apart from the patients who spoke with Newsday, other patients and family members of TB patients have complained on social media – even on the NCRHA and the Ministry of Health’s Facebook pages – about the chronic shortage of medicine.
Former government minister Devant Maharaj posted on his Facebook fan page a photo of the pills purportedly given to the patients, along with the caption: “Patients at the Caura Chest Hospital were given medication as of Friday only to realise that it is kids TB pills! Patients are deeply concerned about the state of the medical institution given firstly the initial shortage of the TB medicine, then a brief supply and now children medication given to adult patients.”
One person replied: “This is not only affecting patients at Caura but outpatients as well. My close relative who is an adult is now receiving this paediatric medication also after being without absolutely none of the four TB medications for dayssss! They are being told this is all the TB medication they have.”
Newsday tried several times to confirm from the relevant authorities whether there is a shortage of the drugs countrywide, if children’s medicine is being dispensed to adults, whether they are being told this, and if the appropriate doses are being prescribed and dispensed. Neither staff at the Caura and Mt Hope hospital dispensaries wanted to comment, on or off the record. Newsday was also unable to reach Deyalsingh and Thomas.
However, in a phone interview yesterday, NCRHA corporate communications manager Peter Neptune said the contents of the press release are still applicable.
“As far as I’m aware, nothing has changed. The medicines were available. If there’s 300 patients and 200 are collecting their medicines, then they cannot say the medicine is not available.
“That was dealt with in the release (last week). There is a global shortage of Rifampin. Therefore, we are using the alternative,” Neptune said, adding he was unaware of adults being given children’s TB medicine as an alternative. “I can’t speak to that (children’s medicine). The doctors will know what’s best to give the patients.”