There has been a lot of debate by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government on the importation and distribution of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. Its last escapade being its uncertainty about whether or not to sole source drugs – in one instance it is in favour of sole sourcing and on the next, it is condemning it.The APNU/AFC Government has now outlined its intention to no longer facilitate the established practice of prequalifying pharmaceutical companies to supply medicines and equipment to the Ministry of Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).The Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton had told the media that the Administration was moving away from prequalifying, since he believes that the process is skewed in favour of one company and its removal would level the playing field so that smaller companies can come on board and bid for the supply of drugs. His contention was that the drugs would be divided into lots and the respective companies can bid for the different lots.International bodies such as the World Bank (WB) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have outlined international best practices to be used in the procurement and distribution of pharmaceuticals and equipment. One of those practices, the establishment and utilisation of prequalification, has been the golden standard for the procurement of quality pharmaceuticals and supplies.Simply put, prequalification is a stringent procedure that evaluates the drugs being manufactured and imported by companies that submit themselves to the process. Once a company successfully meets all the required criteria established under the prequalification process, it joins a list of international suppliers who are automatically prequalified and against which the local entity will have to bid. This list includes the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO); Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); WHO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).The “prequalification process” for suppliers or contractors is used by Governments across the world and was introduced here by the Procurement Act of 2003. For certain types of goods and services, especially of a complex and detailed nature as pharmaceuticals, the prequalified suppliers reduce the administrative burden by obviating the need for assessing tenders for each batch of goods.The move by Government to now curtail the process might be an ill-advised one, taking into consideration the amount of “knock off” drugs, which have been cooked up in bottom houses and passed off as legitimate copies, entering the local economy.By relaxing or removing the prequalification process, the Government is invariably weakening the mechanisms in place to ensure that drugs are sourced from a credible entity which has been vetted and can attest to the quality of drugs being manufactured and supplied.Further exacerbating the situation is the fact that these overnight companies are being allowed to supply equipment and drugs when most seek out the most cost-effective avenue to do so, many a times against the best interest of the consumer.The level of uncertainty and apparent lack of a cohesive structure on the part of the Government could spell trouble in this particular area, since a weak structure leaves room for the proliferation of sub-standard drugs and medical equipment in the economy, the consequences of which can be detrimental to the health and lives of the Guyanese people.Last November, a company, which just has an address at Parika, with no sign of employees or business activity, won its first sole-sourced contract to supply .1 million in HIV rapid test kits for the Public Health Ministry. The company, Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc, has just recently been awarded another sole-sourced contract to supply 5 million worth of medical equipment such as Biohit Pipette Tips and Devices; Nova Express Test Strips; two sets of Beckman Coulter Reagents and Becton Dickenson Syringes, needles and tubes.In fact, Minister Norton, in addressing the observations made about the credibility of the company to deliver such large contracts, had said: “I must tell you that my Cabinet colleagues, they argued strongly against that particular company, because people wanted to know why is it that this company only formed in 2013, have a large proportion of contracts. I don’t know anything about this company, where it was formed and so on except for the fact that they were recommended by NPTAB [National Procurement and Tender Administration Board].”This just serves as an example of what is already happening; should the prequalification criteria be changed to reflect the inclusion of entities not credible enough to provide the requisite drugs, then God help us all.