Egypt wrestles with critical drug shortages

Egypt wrestles with critical drug shortages
Egypt wrestles with critical drug shortages | Courtesy of Shutterstock
Hospitals, medical resellers and patients in the country of Egypt are having big problems.

An enormous amount of concern over a clash between dropping currency values, along with artificial price caps on many medications currently used within the country’s health care system, has arisen.

The end result is that the drugs in question are no longer profitable to import or manufacture, which is problematic. Affected drugs include insulin, some cancer treatments and a range of contraception products.

After receiving a $12 million loan, Egypt saw the Egyptian pound devalued, which led to the current crisis.

Some trace aspects of Egypt's economic hard times back to the 2011 uprising, pointing out that before the Arab Spring, many of Egypt’s economic indicators were positive. Since then, the country has been battling serious economic problems, including inflation in the double digits, which has made it hard for officials there to pursue a market correction.

In an unusual response to the drug shortage problem, Egypt's Health Ministry blames consumers who it says are hoarding medicines, and refuses to raise price caps in the wake of the shortages.

How big is the crisis? Official reports show nearly 1,600 drugs have experienced shortages in the last few months -- doctors relate stories of desperate patients unable to get the insulin that they need.

Pharmacies are running out of imported products, and even the 70 percent of Egyptian drugs that are domestically made are in short supply. Experts estimate that 40 percent of Egypt’s drugs come from big international sellers including Pfizer, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi.

Some are calling the situation entirely avoidable.

"It's an orchestrated crisis," Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Mogahed said in a press statement to Mehwar, an Egyptian television broadcaster. "The decision to float the pound was taken ... and two hours later people began saying we have a crisis and we don't have meds … It's a way to push for a rise in medicine prices, which will not happen."

Others in the U.S. agree that, economically, this is something that could have been fixed earlier.

“This is a million-dollar blind spot,” Gary Patterson told Gulf News Journal Wednesday.

Patterson runs FiscalDoctor, a consulting business.

“It's something they should have prepared for,” he said, describing a kind of psychological effect that often leads individuals and groups to put off addressing frightening issues that can turn into full-blown crises. “People wait too long to address an issue -- there's a reason people say don't kick the can down the road.”

In the face of these drug shortages, Health Ministry leaders are talking with private-sector drug industry executives to put together an emergency plan involving a $165 million of subsidies for the life-saving drugs.

"There's no way of knowing how long this amount will last because cancer drugs are expensive and it depends on the shortages, but the amount is not enough to solve the problem," Adel Maksoud, head of pharmacy at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, recently told Zawya.