Pharmacists to strike in Lebanon over medicine shortage
Pharmacists have announced a strike set to begin on Friday as concerns mount over a shortage of imported drugs and equipment amid an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as the country rushes to get its citizens vaccinated while dealing with a financial crisis.
The Association of Pharmacists announced its intention to strike and said it will continue to do so until the Ministry of Health provides pharmacies with a detailed list of drugs that will be subsidised by the Bank of Lebanon (BDL).
Pharmacists are demanding that a list of these subsidised drugs be provided to them and that the price of other products be linked to the exchange rate on the parallel market (more than ten times the official rate), in order to ensure sale to customers and to avoid "the monopoly of the black market and traffickers".
This comes after BDL’s decision to restrict subsidies to anti-cancer drugs and treatments for incurable and chronic diseases, prompting importers to all but stop distributing drugs to pharmacies.
The World Bank said Lebanon’s financial crisis, precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic and the explosion of Lebanon’s key Beirut port, could rank among the world’s three worst since the mid-1800s.
The crash of Lebanon’s currency made it more expensive for traders to import medications while subsidy payments from the central bank have been delayed, prompting a cascade of issues that caused shortages.
These range from crucial medication for serious chronic illnesses, epilepsy, pain and Covid-19, to acne.
Warnings from importers
On Sunday, Lebanon's medicine importers said they had run out of hundreds of essential drugs and warned of more shortages, as the country's dire financial crisis batters the health sector.
Lebanese are grappling with a raft of shortages, including petrol, as the caretaker government discusses lifting subsidies it can no longer afford.
The local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, but the central bank had been providing importers with dollars at a much more favourable official rate to cover a large part of the cost of imported drugs.
Medicine "imports have almost completely ground to a halt over the past month", the association of pharmaceuticals importers said in a statement.
The syndicate said the central bank has not released the promised dollars to pay suppliers abroad, who are owed more than $600 million in accumulated dues since December, and importers cannot obtain new lines of credit.
"Importing companies' stocks of hundreds of medicines to treat chronic and incurable diseases have run out," it warned.
"And hundreds more will run out through July if we cannot resume imports as soon as possible."