Egypt's Pharmacists union postpones planned strike, sues ministry over medicine price hike decision

Ahram Online , Saturday 14 Jan 2017

Medicine are arranged on a shelf inside in a pharmacy in Cairo, Egypt, November 17, 2016. Picture taken November 17, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt's Pharmacists Syndicate postponed on Saturday for two weeks a partial strike at pharmacies initially scheduled for Sunday over the health ministry’s decision to raise the prices of 3,000 medications amid a medicine shortage in the country, Al-Ahram Arabic website reported.

The syndicate also announced on Saturday that it would file a lawsuit to halt the ministry’s decision.

On Thursday, health minister Ahmed Rady announced an increase in the prices of 3,000 medications out of 12,000 currently available on the market, including some medications for chronic illnesses.

An urgent general assembly of the Pharmacists Syndicate voted in December for a partial closure of pharmacies from 9am till 3pm for two weeks, starting from 15 January, over what it called “the random pricing policy.”

It added that price hikes will not help provide unavailable medicines, as manufacturing companies will likely make “certain types of medicines that are in high demand so as to make more profits.”

In a general assembly on Saturday, the syndicate approved the proposal of the parliament's health committee to temporarily decrease the profit margin to 23 percent on local medication, and 15 percent to the imported ones.  

Egypt has been facing difficulties in importing medicines and components used in the local manufacturing of pharmaceuticals following the pound floatation in November. 

On 1 January, health minister Ahmed Radi said during a cabinet meeting that “to resolve the issue, the ministry will increase prices and overcome shortages in the short-term, develop state-owned pharmaceutical factories in the medium-term, and expand the pharmaceutical industry in Egypt in the long-term.”

During the meeting, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said that the supply of medicines must be increased to end the country’s ongoing shortage.

Foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies, as well as the profit margin of pharmacies on any medicine, are regulated by Decree no 499 of 2012 and enforced by the ministry of health. 

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail announced the government had “reached a solution” to the medicine crisis, without providing further details.

Ismail said the solution is being discussed with pharmaceutical companies and members of parliament, adding that the government prioritises ensuring the availability of medications at reasonable prices.

Manufacturers have said the retail price of medicines needs to be raised so that they do not incur losses amid changes in the value of the pound..

The Central Bank of Egypt floated the local currency in early November, which slashed its value by half against the dollar, resulting in price hikes, especially for imported goods.

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