Delisting owners of two of Egypt's largest pharmacy chains from Health Ministry's list raises controversy
Ahmed Morsy, , Thursday 5 Sep 2019
Ahmed Morsy reports on the Health Ministry’s controversial decision to delist the owners of two of Egypt’s largest pharmacy chains

The Department of Free Treatment and Licencing at the Ministry of Health has notified the Pharmacists’ Syndicate that it is removing the chains of chemists’ shops owned by Hatem Roshdy and Ahmed Al-Ezabi from the ministry’s list of registered pharmacists.

In its statement the ministry said the decision is based on a court ruling.

Pharmacists’ Syndicate head Mohamed El-Sheikh said the pharmacy chains are “illegal entities” in violation of Law 127/1955 which states that individual pharmacists can own a limit of two pharmacies.

“The owners of these pharmacy chains have resorted to the Ministry of Investment and established businesses designated as ‘drug groups’ so they can open new branches without a licence,” he said.

But why take action now?

According to Al-Sheikh, the long-running problem arose because “previous syndicate boards were simply not interested” while “the current board has been working for years now to eliminate the phenomenon.”

“The syndicate’s disciplinary committee actually moved to delist the owners of the two chains three years ago but then we had to wait for a final court ruling.”

In March a court of appeal upheld the decision of the Pharmacists Syndicate to strip Al-Ezabi and Roshdy of their membership. A further 25 pharmacists involved in the same case who had had their membership withdrawn had the sentence commuted to a year-long ban on practising pharmacy.

In its ruling the court said it had been proved that 14 pharmacists had sold their trade names to Al-Ezabi in a ploy to enable the opening and management of multiple pharmacies despite the law stating that pharmacists can own just two pharmacies.

Inas Abdel-Halim, a member of parliament’s Health Committee, said “the decision does not mean the closure of pharmacies bearing the Al-Ezabi and Roshdy names, though they will be forced to rebrand.”

Head of the Media Committee at the Pharmacist Syndicate Mohamed Kamal said the syndicate would now move against the owners of other chains who will find themselves in a similar position — membership of the syndicate withdrawn.

According to Al-Sheikh, the syndicate is investigating 295 pharmacists linked with chains of pharmacy shops. “Of these, 40 have been referred to the disciplinary committee,” while others have expressed their willingness to secede from the illegal entities and have begun to terminate their contracts with the chains.

In a statement issued last week the syndicate warned pharmacists against lending their names to pharmacy chains, noting that they will face a year-long suspension of their membership, during which period their pharmacies will not be allowed to operate.

In a telephone interview with MBC Masr channel, Al-Ezabi described the decision as “illegal”.

“The Central Department of Free Treatment and Licencing at the Ministry of Health is not legally responsible for pharmacies and hence the decision is not valid. The competent authority is the ministry’s Central Department of Pharmaceutical Affairs,” said Al-Ezabi.

“We are not circumventing the law. All we are doing is using a trademark, a franchise. We provide the trademark and operating system while the ownership and management is the responsibility of the proprietors, not the chain.”

Al-Sheikh insists that the chains represent a threat to the pharmacists’ profession.

“They are not only illegal, operating without a licence, but some seek to establish monopolies which they then abuse,” said the syndicate head.

The move led to speculation on social media platforms that the Armed Forces was planning to enter the retail pharmaceutical market, provoking official denials.

“The Armed Forces categorically denies rumours circulated on hostile channels and social media suggesting the Armed Forces is planning a chain of pharmacies across the country,” said the military spokesman.

“The Armed Forces calls on all media and social media users not to promote rumours and to be accurate in their reporting rather than repeat malicious allegations.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 September, 2019 edition ofAl-Ahram Weeklyunder the title:Drug wars