[Ip-health] Activists uneasy over GPO chief's sacking

Jockey jockey.kit at gmail.com
Fri May 17 17:37:36 PDT 2013


 Activists uneasy over GPO chief's sacking

   - Published: 17 May
   - Online news: Local News <http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local>

 The dismissal of the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) chief
would disrupt Thailand's drug distribution system, health advocates warn.

The sacking of GPO managing director Witit Artavatkun could be part of a
broader agenda to benefit private-sector drug firms, some said.

GPO board chairman Pipat Yingseree said the state agency's board on Friday
decided to dismiss Mr Witit for negligence.

Mr Witit has been under investigation since February by the Public Health
Ministry and the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).

Witit: Credited with bringing drug costs down. (File photo)

He was accused of irregularities in the procurement of 148 tonnes of
paracetamol ingredients, the delayed construction of a vaccine factory, and
stockpiling of anti-flu ingredients.

However, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that the anti-flu drugs
would not expire until 2015 and cleared Mr Witit of any wrongdoing.

The DSI then forwarded other cases to the National Anti-Corruption
Commission (NACC).

The GPO board had begun its own investigation in February which led to the
managing director's dismissal.

Health activists suspected that the investigations might aim to discredit
Mr Witit and the organisation to reduce its influence on the public health

There could be a hidden political or financial agenda to change the GPO's
structure and satisfy private-sector drug suppliers, said Niyada
Kiatying-Angsulee of Chulalongkorn University's Drug System Monitoring and
Development Programme.

"The organisation has the privilege to supply drugs to state-owned
hospitals nationwide," she said. "The dismissal [of Mr Witit] has damaged
the organisation's profile which could lead to the loss of such advantage.

"The ejection may pave ways for the private sector to become alternative
drug suppliers."

Nimit Tian-udom, director of the Aids Access Foundation, said Mr Witit was
a strong executive and his absence would have a negative effect on drug
distribution to state-owned hospitals.

"When the GPO is weak, we will need to rely on foreign medicine suppliers
which could be very expensive," she said.

Saree Ongsomwang, secretary-general of the Foundation for Consumers, said
she believed the dismissal was linked to the Thailand-EU Free Trade
Agreement (FTA) negotiations.

The government's drug procurement system is a problem for foreign medicine
suppliers who want to benefit from low tariffs under an FTA, she said.

The system does not allow them to sell products at high prices because the
government buys in large quantities to be able to negotiate price discounts
with suppliers.

"The GPO has long guaranteed national health security for Thai people. The
dismissal of Mr Witit is definitely not a good sign," said Ms Saree.

Former GPO board chairman Wichai Chokwiwat questioned the transparency of
Mr Witit's ouster.

Mr Wichai said the duration of the investigation was suspiciously short.

Mr Witit gave a two-hour statement about the vaccine factory construction
to the DSI on May 7 and later he submitted more than 1,000 pages of
documents on May 15.

The DSI somehow managed to declare its findings within one day.

In the case of the paracetamol procurement, Mr Witit was scheduled to give
a statement to the DSI on May 7. But the DSI publicised his alleged
wrongdoing on May 1.

"Every incident took place two years ago. Why did the investigation only
begin recently though some public health officials have been with the GPO's
board for longer than the period of time?" asked Mr Wichai.

DSI chief Tarit Pengdith maintains the agency had enough evidence to charge
the managing director. The investigation did not mean to defame anyone, he

Mr Witit piloted the 40-baht universal healthcare project at Baan Paew
hospital in Samut Sakhon, which later became a model for the government's
30-baht healthcare scheme.

He has been praised for increasing the GPO's revenue from 5 billion baht to
12 billion baht over five years.

He is also one of major figures behind reductions in medicine costs by the
government procurement system and the issue of compulsory licences (CL) to
ensure cheaper drugs, Mr Wichai added.

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