- Title: Egypt's pound float a death blow for life-saving medicines
- Date: 22nd November 2016
- Summary: CAIRO, EGYPT (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF PHARMACISTS INSIDE PHARMACY DRUG ON SHELF FACTORY WORKERS INSIDE EIPICO AND MAN DRIVING CART
- Embargoed: 7th December 2016 15:38
- Keywords: medecine float pound import fees drugs
- Location: CAIRO, EGYPT
- City: CAIRO, EGYPT
- Country: Egypt
- Topics: Health/Medicine
- Reuters ID: LVA00559J2GR9
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Pharmacies across Egypt are running short of medicines, some of them life-savers, as a plunge in the value of the Egyptian pound coupled with strict government price caps has made scores of products unprofitable to produce or import.
The shortages include some cancer treatments as well as basic items like insulin, tetanus shots and contraceptive pills.
"Imported drugs that have no alternatives, like some cancer treatments, is a problem that we must find a solution to, and the Health Ministry must see how to move the prices of these medications for the chamber of commerce of medicine production or for importers to be able to make them available, even if that will happen without a profit margin - because patients are the priority," said one Cairo pharmacist, doctor Fadi Bebawi.
Unable to raise prices above levels set by the Health Ministry but now paying roughly twice as much to import drugs or active ingredients, pharmaceutical firms say they have been forced to phase out certain medicine to stay in business.
Egypt floated its currency on November 3, abandoning a peg of 8.8 pounds to the U.S. dollar and allowing the currency to roughly halve in value to about 17.50 on Tuesday (November 22).
The float helped the cash-strapped government clinch a $12 billion IMF loan it hopes will unlock investment and revive growth that has been hampered by political uncertainty since the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
But the medicine shortages are piling pressure on the government of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has been at pains to reassure a populace already struggling with double-digit inflation and intermittent shortages that they would be shielded from the worst effects of economic reforms.
Talk of a looming healthcare crisis has dominated popular evening chatshows, with doctors calling in nightly to report rapidly depleting stocks and patients being turned away from hospitals for lack of supplies.
In Cairo, the move had angered the public.
"Medicine today, you can't find anymore. What you used to buy for 10 pounds, you buy it for 100 and it's not even available. It was 10 and now it's 100 pounds and not there. What are we supposed to do? There needs to be a solution for this problem," said Cairo resident Araby Hegab.
"I've been looking for this medication for four days and I can't find it, and my uncle is being kept at the hospital and I can't find him his medication, and they gave me two alternatives and I can't find them as well. I've circled all of Egypt on my feet and I can't find them anywhere," another resident called Emad said.
The Health Ministry has blamed the problem on panicking Egyptians hoarding medicines and said it would not raise prices.
Drug shortages are not new to Egypt. More medicines had already begun disappearing from shelves early this year as a severe shortage of dollars in the banks meant pharmaceutical firms could not pay for the necessary imports.
Egypt has struggled to earn enough dollars since the 2011 uprising scared off foreign investors and tourists and the central bank drained its reserves defending the currency peg.
The Health Ministry set up a Drug Shortages Directorate in 2012 to minimize the impact by suggesting suitable substitutes for missing medicines. But the situation has only worsened.
EIPICO's vice president told Reuters about 1,600 drugs had gone short in recent months, including 35 that have no alternatives and would disappear from the market if price caps were not eased.
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