The company that brought in the tainted eye injections that left seven patients blinded in one or both eyes was awarded over $15 million in tender awards by the Ministry of Health.
Last week, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said that as part of the punishment for bringing in drugs through “illegitimate importation” channels, the company was barred from participating in State tenders.
However, documents received by Guardian Media from inside Nipdec showed that as of September 2019, the same company, Eye See You Ophthalmic and Medical Supplies was paid $2.5 million to supply non-pharmaceutical items and another $12.8 million to supply pharmaceutical drugs to the public hospitals.
Two Sundays ago, Guardian Media reported exclusively that seven people were injected with a tainted eye injection, brought into the country via “illegitimate importation channels” and had to undergo surgery to have one or both infected eyes removed.
According to that report, the Government recalled the imported injection which contains Triamcineclone Acetonide as its main ingredient back in July.
In the past four months, the seven patients have undergone eye removal surgery and are currently being outfitted with prosthetic glass eyes.
In its July recall statement, the Government said that the drug Triamcineclone Acetonide BP was “not registered” in Trinidad and Tobago.
“It would have had to be brought into the country via parallel illegitimate importation channels. The Chemistry, Food and Drug Division of the Ministry of Health has already seized stocks of this drug from the supplier,” the ministry statement said.
Despite the severity of the illegitimate importation, the supplier is still in business and the only action taken against the company was that it is no longer allowed to participate in government tenders.
There is also conflicting information as to who is paying for the surgeries and subsequent treatment that the seven patients underwent since July.
The bacteria-laden drug was administered by unwitting ophthalmologists in July and one doctor alerted the Ministry of Health when he realised the severity of the injection.
On Sunday, Deyalsingh responded further to questions by the media about the illegal importation. He said then that the Ministry of Health mans the legal ports of entry.
“We cannot man every mangrove that brings in illegal drugs,” Deyalsingh said.
In a brief interview with Guardian Media the owner of Eye See You, Sunil Manasa denied that he used illegitimate channels to bring in his drugs. He said he had all the documents to prove he brought in the drugs legitimately.
He also denied being blocked from participating in State tenders.
“I couldn’t meet with you last week because I was in meetings with the RHA Regional Health Authority)in South about a tender and I am also completing a tender now,” he said.
Manasa promised to sit with Guardian Media for an interview on Tuesday but could not be reached again.
Guardian Media called last Wednesday seeking another meeting but was told that Manasa was unavailable.
On Thursday, his receptionist said that he was “out of the country.”
“He is attending a conference,” she said.
While Deyalsingh said that the doctors had a responsibility to ensure their patients were treated with drugs that are legally brought into the country, a group of ophthalmologists is questioning whether they need to independently test every drug that they use on their patients and whether the existing Chemistry, Food, and Drug division was doing its job.
Actions related to Chemistry, Food and Drugs are overseen by the Chemistry, Food and Drugs Division of the Ministry of Health.
According to its website, the mission of the Chemistry Food and Drugs Division is to:
1. Ensure the safe quality of an equitable standard for use by consumers of food, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices;
2. Ensure safety in use, the proper management and acceptable standards for pesticides and toxic chemicals;
3. Provide technological and laboratory services in the areas of food, drug, cosmetics, medical devices, pesticides, and toxic chemicals.
The Division is the body responsible for the administration of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Act and Regulations. It is also supported by:
1. A Drug Advisory Committee, which is mandated to assist and advise the Minister with respect to:
2. Drug Standards; Schedules of Drugs; Conditions of sale of drugs; and
3. Cosmetics standards; labelling of Cosmetics, and any other matters connected therewith.
A Food Advisory Committee to assist and advise the Minister with respect to food standards, labelling and other matters connected with the manufacturing and distribution of food.
The Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Board.
Drug inspections require applicants to make an appointment to meet the Secretary of the Drug Advisory Committee. Applicants must take the following to the meeting:
-A completed Drug Approval application form. Please follow the link below to download an application form and the Summary of Requirements for New Drug Submission.
-Samples of the product.
-Receipt of payment for the process. The fee is TT$750.00 for new drugs, and TT$100.00 for drugs that are already on the local market but have had some change to the label, manufacturing site, artwork design or other minor changes.
-A certificate of origin of the drug (in the case of imported drugs).
-A letter stating the name of the person or entity requesting the drug inspection and the name of the drug.
The approval process can take as long as 120 days, and that each month there are various deadlines for new drug inspection and approval, as advised by the Inspector’s office.