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Out of stocks of medicines, consumer panic, contraband, fall of the Lebanese pound … The Lebanese pharmaceutical sector is in crisis and raises fears of a shortage of medicines, while the country of the Cedar is already facing a disastrous economic situation.

Crises pile up in Liban, where the economic collapse of a state with absent subscribers pushes the population further into impoverishment day after day. In addition to the financial and monetary crisis, the coronavirus epidemic and the consequences the cataclysmic explosions of August 4 in the port of Beirut, the country of the Cedars must face a crisis in the pharmaceutical sector, which raises fears of drug shortages.

The Lebanese Central Bank, which subsidizes certain basic necessities such as medicines, bread and gasoline, has suggested, end of August, That the lack of sufficient reserves of foreign currency in US dollars would not allow it to finance imports of these products beyond three months.

The prospect of the lifting of subsidies, which caused some panic and prompted many Lebanese to flock to pharmacies for fear of rising prices and future shortages.

“While politicians and banks have already stolen everything from us, they are now seeking to stop the subsidies. Soon, we will no longer die in hospitals but at home, plague Fadi, a sixty-year-old posted in front of the entrance of a Beirut pharmacy , a large paper bag full of boxes of drugs in my hand. I am taking a long course of five drugs, this is the fourth pharmacy that I visit to find some of them. ‘There is no more subsidy, and prices soar or worse, if pharmacies are no longer supplied, how am I going to continue to treat myself? “

For several weeks, many drugs have been out of stock and pharmacists keep warning of an even more serious crisis to come. On October 13, a large number of them, especially in the south of the country, observed a day of strike to protest against the shortage of medicines and against the deterioration of the living conditions of professionals in the sector.

For its part, the Ministry of Health assured that the quantities of drugs currently stored in Lebanese warehouses were sufficient “for a period ranging from two to three months”, and called for a rationalization of their distribution “in order to meet the needs up to ‘at the end of the year”.

Panic after the explosions of August 4

“We are living a very difficult period,” says France 24 Marilyn Moussally, pharmacist in Biyakout, in the Metn region, east of Beirut. Concretely, 30 to 50% of drugs are completely out of stock, while stocks which remain are very limited. “

The pharmacist explains that it was from August that the suppliers noticed that they had sold double the quantities sold in July. “It seems that many Lebanese panicked after the August 4 explosions, believing that Lebanon could not import drugs due to the destruction of part of the port,” she said. But it was above all the announcement from the Central Bank on the subsidies, which heightened the panic of patients who sought to buy more drugs, to stock up, when there are less in circulation. “

And to add: “The customers of my pharmacy ask me constantly, some of them send me messages of distress daily, sometimes until 1 am so that I find them medicines that they cannot find. more elsewhere, sometimes to treat chronic illnesses, but I cannot work miracles or favoritism. “

Pharmacist Marilyn Moussally pictured in her pharmacy.
Pharmacist Marilyn Moussally pictured in her pharmacy. © DR

In response to the panic phenomenon, drug distributors, who themselves risk a shortage of dollars to order, have limited the quantities of drug shipments to pharmacists to ordinary consumption averages. A measure taken for lack of sufficient stocks to cover the very high demand, which is also intended to curb the phenomenon of contraband and drug trafficking abroad.

“The cheapest drugs in the world”

“The situation is untenable, because of this climate of panic drug consumption is three to four times higher than normal, hence the shortages”, explains to France 24 an employee of a drug distributor, under the seal anonymity.

He explains that the deal is very advantageous for patients since they pay much less for their treatment, as long as it is not broken, due to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound (8,500 pounds on average for 1 dollar on the black market, against 1,500 pounds for 1 dollar, i.e. the official rate before the current crisis since October 2019).

“Knowing that there is no social security in Lebanon, saving money these days is vital for the Lebanese, and this may also explain the rush on subsidized drugs, which are still sold. at the exchange rate of 1,500 pounds to the dollar. But having the cheapest drugs in the world has a perverse effect, because some take advantage of the situation to smuggle and traffic to Arab countries like Syria and the ‘Iraq, where subsidized drugs are sold for much more.

In recent weeks, Lebanese police forces have repeatedly intercepted smugglers trying to leave the territory with shipments of medicine. On October 6, they said they had arrested six Egyptian nationals at Beirut airport in possession of nearly 700 boxes of drugs.

“The drug is the new dollar in Lebanon, ironically Marilyn Moussally, who cites the example of Lipitor, prescribed to treat people who have high cholesterol.” This drug costs 30,000 Lebanese pounds, or nearly 4 dollars today ‘hui, against 20 dollars before the monetary crisis, she specifies. In the United States this remedy costs nearly 100 dollars. “

In any case, the alignment of prices on the old exchange rate is damaging for pharmacies, some of which are likely to go out of business for lack of profitability, warned the Lebanese Order of Pharmacists, according to which, nearly 200 pharmacies have closed in recent years.

“The turnover of my pharmacy has fallen by 40%, due to delivery breaks, not to mention that my income has also fallen because of the fall of the Lebanese pound, explains Marilyn Moussally. I cannot give up. my clients, I am resisting thanks to investments in parapharmaceutical products such as creams and lotions for babies, which should allow me to compensate for the losses, but for how long? “

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