Neupogen Shortage At Cancer Hospital
By Maryam Azwer
The shortage of an essential drug for cancer patients at the National Cancer Institute, Maharagama, has raised some very serious concerns.
Director of the Institute, Dr. Kanishka Karunarathna, on Thursday (June 15) said that they would soon be receiving stocks of the drug, ‘Neupogen’.
“Now actually we got the drug at the Ministry, tomorrow we will be unloading it,” he said.
However, on Friday (June 16), a source from the Institute, on condition of anonymity, said that no drugs from the Ministry had arrived yet. They said that the Institute had only received a donation of Neupogen from private donors, that would be sufficient for three days.
Attempts were made to contact Dr. Karunarathna for a comment following receipt of this information, but he could not be contacted, nor did he respond to text messages.
Meanwhile, the Medical Services Division (MSD) of the Ministry of Health, which supplies the Cancer Institute with this drug, did not confirm that Neupogen would be delivered to the Institute by Friday.
Director, MSD, Dr. Kamal Jayasinghe, who was also contacted on Thursday, said “We will be getting it very soon. We have placed the order.” However, when asked, he said that it would not be delivered by the next day, but that they would receive the drug “within a week’s time, one or two weeks.”
He added that the stocks they are getting down would be “adequate for national requirement.”
He also said that the reason for the shortage was that “there was a shortage from the supplier’s side.”
Dr. Karunarathna, however, had blamed delivery delays for the shortage.
“There are certain issues in the sense, once we place the tender, sometimes there is a delay in supplying the drug to the Ministry because of various reasons like ships getting late and a few other things, but we have got the drug now… by tomorrow, day after it will be available,” he said on Thursday, by way of explanation for the shortage.
He said that Neupogen was not available here, and had to be imported, and added that, “We placed the tender at the correct time, the only thing is there are delivery delays. These things can happen… there are delivery delays by the manufacturer.”
Dr. Karunarathna also said that there had been a shortage of this drug “for about a week.”
The Director’s claims however contradict information received from other sources.
A reliable source from within the Cancer Institute, on condition of anonymity, said that the drug had in fact been in short supply for around three months.
Neupogen is a life-saving drug and is used to boost the blood count of leukaemia patients, and is also administered to cancer patients during chemotherapy. As a result, the source said, chemotherapy would not be administered if this drug was not available, which makes this shortage a very serious concern.
A vial of Neupogen costs around Rs. 6,500, and while some patients may require one to three vials, some could even need six to seven vials.
According to this source, suppliers not being paid on time, and a shortage of funds at the MSD, were both reasons contributing to the drug shortage.
When questioned regarding this, Dr. Jayasinghe of the MSD said that the issue of non-payment to suppliers, as well as the lack of funds, had been sorted out. “There was a shortage of funds, but now it’s not there. We have settled it,” he said.