Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1327, (12 - 18 January 2017)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1327, (12 - 18 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Pharmacists to strike over pricing

Pharmacists are set to strike in mid-January in protest at the government’s pricing policy, reports Reem Leila

Pharmacists to strike over pricing
Pharmacists to strike over pricing

Egypt’s pharmacists held an urgent meeting at the Pharmacists Syndicate in Cairo on 23 December, where they decided to hold a partial strike on 15 January against government plans to freeze their profit margins.

As a result, in mid-January Egypt’s pharmacies will close daily from 9am until 3pm for two successive weeks.

The syndicate also addressed demands to the Ministry of Health to resolve problems about the shortages and pricing of medicines that have hit the country over recent weeks, but the call was met by silence from the ministry.

The syndicate said the decision to strike was not directed against the public, but had been taken “for the common good”. According to a statement, the decision was taken to “improve the availability of medicines to the public”.

Head of the Pharmacists Syndicate Mohie Al-Naqeeb pointed to the government’s pressures on the syndicate in order not to implement a partial strike.

“We believe the strike will put pressure on the government, as people will not be able to stand the strike,” Al-Naqeeb said, adding that the government had “intentionally marginalised” the syndicate and its members.

Since the floatation of the Egyptian pound in November, there have been shortages of essential drugs and increases in the prices of medications. The government has increased the prices of medicines by a percentage ranging from between 30 and 50 per cent.

According to a statement issued by the Pharmacists Syndicate, pharmacists want to see the implementation of a Health Ministry decree supported by a court ruling that recommended a profit margin for pharmacists of 25 per cent for locally made medications and 18 per cent for imported ones.

Al-Naqeeb said the government had implemented a partial rise in medicine prices, and the remaining rise would be in February. “We are against any rise in prices without a guarantee that obligates companies to withdraw all expired medicines from the market threatening the health of patients,” he said.

According to the statement issued by the Pharmacists Syndicate, pharmaceutical companies and medicines stores have abstained from distributing medications because they are waiting for the implementation of the price increases set for February.

“We will report this case to the general prosecutor in protest at the monopolistic practices of the pharmaceutical companies,” the statement read.

It called on pharmacists to stick to decisions made by the syndicate, saying that otherwise they would be penalised.

The escalation in the pharmacists’ action comes in protest against the Health Ministry’s failure to implement pricing decree 499 of 2012 and policies that the syndicate considers to be “against pharmacists and patients.”

Decree 499 is a price-setting regulation by the Health Ministry that covers both foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies, as well as defining the profit margin of pharmacies on each medicine.

Mahmoud Abdel-Maqsoud, head of the Pharmaceuticals Division of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, said the division did not back the strike.

The division represented more than 80 per cent of the country’s pharmacies, and the syndicate represented only individual pharmacists who had permits to practise the profession but did not necessarily operate pharmacies, he said.

“Around 80 per cent of the country’s pharmacies are not obliged to follow the syndicate’s decision,” Abdel-Maqsoud said, adding that he disagreed with the strike as a way to put pressure on the government and called for more negotiations with the Ministry of Health.

In reaction to the strike call, the General Union of Chambers of Commerce also announced its rejection of the decision. Ahmed Al-Wakil, head of the Union of Pharmacy Owners, said it did not approve of people being denied basic commodities and services.

The problem could only be solved by dialogue, he said.

Osama Rostom, deputy head of the Chamber of Pharmaceuticals Manufacturers, said the companies’ responsibility was to manufacture medications efficiently and in an affordable manner. The Pharmacists Syndicate would have to face the consequences of the strike, he said.

“Only 15 per cent of registered medicines from each company are subject to price increases, while the other 85 per cent will not be changed. We import 90 to 95 per cent of the active ingredients we use to make our products, and when the pound was floated we could not continue as we were losing money and running out of the substances needed for production,” Rostom said.

“We had difficulty finding dollars, and the Central Bank of Egypt refused to support the value of the local currency against the dollar. As a result, we agreed with the Health Ministry to increase the prices of 15 per cent of medicines and only at certain percentages,” he said.

Partial increases in prices took place a few weeks ago, and the implementation of the remaining agreement will take place in February. “Once the decision is implemented, we will be able to produce all the medicines once again,” Rostom concluded.

Meanwhile, the syndicate has demanded the establishment of a committee under the supervision of the presidency to include all the institutions concerned with manufacturing medicines in Egypt and the cost of medications.

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