17 pharmacies in San Pedro, but only three practicing pharmacists

Friday, May 16th, 2014

The Pharmacists’ Association of Belize has brought to light serious health issues concerning the fact that several pharmacies on Ambergris Caye are operating without a licensed druggist (also referred to as a pharmacist). Of the 17 known pharmacies, there are only three registered practicing pharmacists in San Pedro Town. This is merely part of many issues within the pharmacy area of the national health sector.
Pharmacist San Pedro-1According to Marisol Melhado, Vice President of Pharmacists’ Association of Belize, one of the typical examples of problems in the health sector has to do with licensed pharmacists as is the case on Ambergris Caye. “In San Pedro Town, you have about 17 known drug stores or pharmacies, but only three licensed, practicing pharmacists on the entire island. This is a problem because we have people selling or distributing medication when they are not licensed to do so, and it poses a serious concern as it relates to people’s lives and safety. A trained, licensed and registered pharmacist is the person that keeps the doctors in check as far as the administering of medication is concern. We ensure that the right medication is being administered for the right purposes, but if you are not trained, registered or licensed you will be unable to keep the doctors in check. We find that for the most part, the main problem is that doctors want to administer and sell their own product, which is a direct conflict of interest. They are the doctor, they own their own pharmacy and turn around and administer medication from their own pharmacy,” said Melhado in an interview with The San Pedro Sun.
Melhado confirmed to The San Pedro Sun that Rene Riveroll and Arnaldo Villas are both registered and licensed Pharmacists attached to the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro PolyClinic II. Riveroll however, works part time at Group Pharmacy. The third person who is a registered and Licensed Pharmacist and is authorized to sell over the counter medications on the island is Angie Valladarez, who works at Unique Pharmacy. According to Melhado, a fourth licensed pharmacist is Doris Caliz, but she is on study leave and is listed as unemployed. “All the other pharmacies on Ambergris Caye don’t have registered and licensed pharmacists in Belize. So this issue is a part of the shortfalls that the Pharmacists’ Association of Belize has been highlighting for some time now. We don’t have the power to be enforcing the law, but we have been saying that we need something in place to look into issues such as these,” said Melhado.
She said that because San Pedro Town is the prime tourism destination in the country, it raises even more eyebrows, since visitors can be wrongly medicated without the proper check and balances in place. Another issue with un-regulated pharmacies is the potential for unlicensed pharmacists to sell medicine that should only be sold with a prescription, and often drugs are abused this way.
Regulatory monitoring of pharmacies now falls under a new government position created by Minister of Health, Pablo Marin. Minister of Trade Erwin Contreras’ daughter, Danini Contreras has been appointed to the new position as Director of Drug Inspectorate within the Ministry of Health. The Pharmacists’ Association of Belize has publically expressed discontent with the creation of the new government post and the appointment of Contreras. According to Melhado, the work of the Director of Drug Inspectorate should entail provisions that will reduce issues such as the problems highlighted on Ambergris Caye. She explained that while the association is not against the creation of the new post of Director Drug Inspectorate, their concern is that a job description should be outlined as to what the duties of such a post entails, the vacancy should be advertised to ensure that a qualified person is hired, and not handpicked. In addition, Melhado outlined that due process should be followed as mandated by the public service commission.
So far the Ministry of Health has maintained the appointment of Danini Contreras to head the new post. The appointment has now become a registered “essential service dispute” that has been launched before the Ministry of Labor by Public Service Union. The Minister of Labour, Local Government, Rural Development, National Emergency Management Organization and Immigration and Nationality, Senator Godwin Hulse confirmed on Tuesday May 13th, that the Ministry has been notified and is awaiting for the points of dispute to be outlined in writing before they can proceed.

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