Terrence Deyalsingh - Minister of Health during debate in the Senate

The Health Ministry is using a new improved tablet Fingolimod to treat Multiple Sclerosis (MS) rather than the less effective Beta Interferon injection which was being used before.

Minister of Health Terrene Deyalsingh confirmed this yesterday, as he labelled a story (not in the Guardian) on “shortage of MS drugs” as inaccurate.

Replying to Opposition Senator Wade Mark on the issue, Deyalsingh said, “I urge all who are advocating for Beta Interferon to be careful as the doctors are absolutely appalled by this story – the doctors are appalled and saddened as to how far the commercial interests’ advocacy has now reached in this country.”

Deyalsingh said “There is no stock out of any drugs in the public health care system to deal with MS. The report in the newspaper is inaccurate.”

He said the ministry had gotten 600 syringes of the Beta Interferon drug (cited in the story) in mid-December and more are expected this month.

“But that drug is an injectable with a 30 per cent efficacy rate. It’s no longer recognised as effective treatment for MS. We signed on with a new drug, given orally with better compliance and with 50 per cent efficacy, in 2019 – Fingolimod.”

Deyalsingh added, “ What is happening is we must question the advocacy which ignores the medical status of the drug versus the commercial interest of manufacturers. Read in between the lines!

“We have a better, new drug given orally versus an older drug given by injection which has a lower efficacy rate and no longer recognised as an effective treatment for MS.”

UNC Senator Anil Roberts asked Deyalsingh why the ministry was getting more syringes of the older Beta Interferon drug this month if it was “useless.”

Deyalsingh replied, “Useless???!! You cannot transition a patient from one drug to another at the drop of a hat!

“ You have to manage the progression of the disease and if they respond to the newer better drug, then you transition them – so your question as posed shows an acute lack of knowledge as to how drugs work and of the clinical protocols that determine how a doctor uses a drug.”

Deyalsingh also said the North Central Regional Health Authority board and executive management held an emergency meeting on Monday evening where the ministry ordered an audit of all outpatient clinic appointments (medicine and surgical) t

o determine the magnitude of the processes and number of people affected.

Deyalsingh said telemedicine initiatives were being strengthened to access and triage patients. A pharmacy pick up collection service was instituted for stable patients, the appointment system is being reviewed and operational review of the clinic management process was done to improve efficiency and patient comfort.

But he stressed it was a delicate balancing act while maintaining COVID protocols.