Health bodies seek sack of GPO chiefs

Health activist groups have urged the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to sack board members of the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) for alleged poor performance and corruption related problems.

Eight health networks, including the Rural Doctors Society (RDS), People’s Health Systems Movement, Rural Pharmaceutical Club (RPC) and the network of people living with HIV/Aids, yesterday jointly handed their grievances to the coup-maker at a complaint centre at Government House.

The group urged the NCPO to dismiss GPO board chairman Pipat Yingseree, GPO managing director Suvaj Siasiriwattana and all other board members including public health permanent secretary Narong Sahametapat as he is also a GPO board member.

“The GPO is a state enterprise that used to produce, provide and distribute medicines to state hospitals efficiently, but under the current board and managing director, the organisation gets weaker and weaker," said RDS core member Vachira Bothpiboon.

Dr Pipat was appointed as GPO board chairman by ex-public health minister Pradit Sintawanarong in December 2011.

Dr Pipat soon launched a probe against former GPO managing director Witit Artavatkun for alleged negligence regarding a delay in the construction of a GPO vaccine plant and alleged irregularities in the procurement of ingredients from China to make paracetamol.

After the probe, the GPO dismissed Dr Witit in May last year. The board then appointed Mr Suvaj, then public health general inspector, as new GPO managing director.

The health activist group has claimed that the dismissal of Dr Witit was unlawful.

In terms of performance, Dr Witit increased the GPO’s annual sales from five billion baht in 2007 to 12 billion baht in 2011, they said.

But the GPO estimates that it will earn only 11.7 million baht this year, according to the group.

From last October to this May, the GPO had back orders from state hospitals worth 481 million baht, up from 69 million baht in the same period of last year.

But of the 481 million baht, up to 403 million consists of orders for HIV anti-retroviral medicines, the group claimed.

It also said Dr Suvaj ordered to suspend production of some important drugs such as Metformin 500mg, used to treat diabetes, due to profitability concerns.

“The GPO aims for a better society rather than profitability. If the GPO failed to perform its mission, people will bear the brunt of it,” said RPC representative Siriporn Jitprasitsiri.

“Now many state hospitals are facing medicine shortages because of GPO policy," she said.

The group also accused Dr Pipat of using the GPO's Dok Pikul fund — used for the welfare of GPO officials — for financing his trip to the US, playing golf, fuel for provincial trips, and his mobile phone and iPad bills.

But Dr Pipat retorted that all expenses met the fund's criteria.

Golf expenses were for the GPO’s charity golf competition while the US trip was for reception of the GPO's partners and coordinators. Fuel, phone and iPad bills were used for GPO activities, he said.

For medicine production, he said the diabetes drug production was suspended because many problems were found at a factory after the removal of Dr Witit. But production of other medicines continues at other factories.

Dr Suvaj said all the problems occurred before he took the helm of the GPO.

He conceded that stockpiles of some medicines are low this year but the GPO ensures sufficient supplies with substituted medicines and medicines bought from private firms.

He insisted there were enough HIV anti-retroviral medicine stockpiles for another six months.

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