CASTRIES, St. Lucia, CMC – Five months after St. Lucia introduced a 15 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT), medical officials are warning the Kenny Anthony administration that patients could die because of their inability to meet the increased costs of medication.
The St. Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) is expressing its "deep concern" over the decision to put VAT on medicine, warning of the "dire" social and economic consequences of the new measure.
Since the introduction of VAT here on October 1, last year, there have been calls from various quarters for the removal of the tax on medical prescriptions.
The government responded last month by indicating it would absorb the tax on medicines at public health institutions, but the SLMDA said that the policy has only compounded the problem.
"Patients and doctors are well aware of the myriad deficiencies in the public pharmaceutical service, including unavailability of many types of pharmaceuticals, inconvenience of public pharmacies and the many instances of 'stock-outs' which result in medication being unavailable."
The SLMDA said it allowed a three month period to elapse since its last statement and to observe the effect of VAT on prescription medications.
“We have seen that the increased price of medication has affected our patients, especially those with chronic diseases, detrimentally. It is with dismay that we see our patients unable to fill their quota of necessary medication. This will have significant consequences including increased morbidity and mortality of patients,” the SLMDA said.
It said it anticipates that “without thoughtful intervention now there will be significant social and economic consequences due to increased blindness, strokes, heart attacks, kidney failures, dialysis, devastating disability, death and family bereavement”.
The SLMDA said that the more recent press statement informing the public that the government will absorb the VAT in the public sector while maintaining the VAT on all medication had compounded the problem.
The SLMDA is calling on the government to establish a list of zero rated prescription medication and offered saying it is willing to partner with the authorities "to achieve these objectives in the interests of our patients”.