Egyp­tians face medicine short­ages as pound plunges

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE - —AFP

Fa­tima was al­ready strug­gling to find cancer drugs for her fa­ther when a de­val­u­a­tion of the Egyp­tian pound this month caused the im­ported medicine to dis­ap­pear al­to­gether. “Be­fore, I could still find it if I searched in sev­eral phar­ma­cies. To­day I can’t,” said the 34-year old teacher, who asked not to be named in full. A dol­lar crunch over the past year had al­ready driven up prices for im­ports in­clud­ing drugs, caus­ing short­ages in medicines to treat di­a­betes, heart and kid­ney dis­eases.

That turned into a cri­sis this month af­ter Egypt floated its cur­rency as part of an eco­nomic re­form pack­age linked to a $12-bil­lion IMF loan. The Egyp­tian pound, which had been pegged at 8.89 to the dol­lar, now trades at banks for up to 17 pounds a dol­lar.

“Right af­ter the cen­tral bank de­ci­sion, dis­tri­bu­tion com­pa­nies in­formed us there would be a quota for im­ported medicines each phar­macy can get,” said Maryse Michel, who works at a phar­macy on a busy street in Cairo. “Ev­ery day peo­ple come ask­ing for medicines I don’t have­maybe 40 per­cent of clients,” she said.

Distrib­u­tors say im­port­ing drugs or their in­gre­di­ents has be­come more ex­pen­sive, but they can­not pass on the ex­tra costs to clients as the govern­ment has set prices for the medicines. The health min­istry in turn ac­cuses distrib­u­tors of stock­pil­ing the medicines to jack up prices.

‘Too costly’

Medicines are the lat­est prod­ucts af­fected by the fall­ing pound, with short­ages in other im­ports as Egypt em­barks on a painful aus­ter­ity pro­gram af­ter years of un­rest that have bat­tered its econ­omy. Egypt has a large phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try, but it also re­lies on im­ported in­gre­di­ents. “Ninety-nine per­cent of com­po­nents of medicines man­u­fac­tured in Egypt are im­ported,” said Mohi Hafiz, a board mem­ber on the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal di­vi­sion of the Fed­er­a­tion of Egyp­tian In­dus­try.

“When the of­fi­cial dol­lar price goes from 8.8 to 17.7, it be­comes too costly,” he said. “The state has to in­ter­vene,” he said. “If we don’t find a so­lu­tion in two or three months, we’ll have a real prob­lem.” Health min­istry spokesman Khaled Me­ga­hed said the govern­ment would not raise drug prices as distrib­u­tors are de­mand­ing. “The com­pa­nies want to con­tinue mak­ing a profit of 2,000 per­cent,” he said. “They spread ru­mors, say there is no more in­sulin, they stop dis­tribut­ing to phar­ma­cies and im­pose quo­tas.”

His min­istry has is­sued re­as­sur­ing state­ments, say­ing for ex­am­ple that the coun­try has enough in­sulin to last seven months. Hoda, a 52-year-old phar­ma­cist, ac­cuses distrib­u­tors of “starv­ing the mar­ket for drugs which they will then sell at a high price.” Hafiz de­nies this, but says distrib­u­tors have set quo­tas. “The distrib­u­tors need to con­trol the flow of prod­ucts put on the mar­ket. Oth­er­wise they will have short­ages in their stocks,” he said.

Or­di­nary Egyp­tians, mean­while, are strug­gling to cope. Fa­tima, who teaches in a pri­vate school, says she can get medicines from abroad when­ever she leaves the coun­try or if a friend vis­its Egypt. Zeinab, a 25-year-old bio­med­i­cal engi­neer, says she has to scour the black mar­ket for medicine for her mother, who suf­fers from kid­ney fail­ure. “The medicine costs 250 pounds. Last month, I bought it for 1,200. This month, I can’t find it, and I hear that the price is 2,000 pounds,” she said.

CAIRO: An Egyp­tian phar­macy em­ployee sells medicine to a cus­tomer in a phar­macy in the cap­i­tal Cairo.

—AFP photos

CAIRO: An Egyp­tian phar­macy em­ployee reaches out to grab a box of medicine in a phar­macy in the cap­i­tal Cairo.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.