Why Egyptians are struggling to find their medicines?

Asmaa Mostafa , Tuesday 26 Dec 2023

Despite the country’s strategic reserve of pharmaceuticals, some Egyptians, especially those with chronic diseases, are still struggling to find the medicines they need.

A photo showing medication tablets placed on a number of US dollars
A photo showing medication tablets placed on a number of US dollars


“There is indeed a scarcity in a wide range of medications, particularly those used for chronic illnesses like diabetes, blood thinners, blood clot treatments, and common cold remedies,” a pharmacist from the Ain Shams suburb told Ahram Online (AO).

In late 2021, Egypt was, notably, the ninth-highest country worldwide in terms of diabetes prevalence, with 9 million citizens affected, 90 percent of whom were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, said Hesham El-Hefnawy, the former dean of the National Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Alarming projections indicate that this figure is expected to surge to 17 million by 2045, placing Egypt seventh globally in terms of diabetes rates, El-Hefnawy added.

The pharmacist added that this shortage encompasses both imported and locally produced drugs, leaving many patients in a precarious situation.

Concerns about medicine shortage have been further echoed by elderly individuals, who rely on multiple medications, as they reported that imported medications, in particular, are increasingly difficult to find.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly had a meeting with the Minister of Health Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar stressing the need to take all the necessary measures to provide the needed medicine.

Reasons of crisis

The main cause of the crisis is the lack of foreign currency required for importing medications, said Maged George, head of the Egyptian Exporting Council of Medical Industries (ECMI).

"Egypt possesses 179 pharmaceutical factories and 799 production lines that, if operating at full capacity, could not only meet the country's medicine demands but also cater to the needs of the entire African continent," George added.

Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, Egypt has been grappling with a severe shortage of US dollars, which exacerbated inflationary pressures and placed a heavy burden on the country's economy.

Consequently, a parallel market emerged, where the dollar is traded at a higher rate than the official exchange rate, reaching EGP 52/1 USD while it trades at almost EGP31/USD in banks according to the official exchange rate. To solve this crisis, the government devalued the Egyptian pound three times since March 2022.

These devaluations caused the Egyptian pound to lose nearly 70 percent of its value against the US dollar, leading to higher production costs for pharmaceutical factories that rely on imported raw materials.

Simultaneously, the government imposed forced pricing on certain types of medicines, citing national security concerns.

This predicament has placed pharmaceutical factories in a challenging position, as they are grappling with increased prices of imported raw materials and elevated real costs while striving to adhere to the forced pricing regime.

Addressing crisis: Towards solutions

The crisis could be resolved through the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, which would make the US dollar more accessible for importing raw materials, George emphasized.

Additionally, he suggested adjusting forced pricing to align with production costs, thereby alleviating the burden faced by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Meanwhile, Ali Ouf, head of the Medicines Division at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce (FEDCOC) emphasized the importance of raising awareness and fostering a culture that encourages citizens to accept locally produced alternatives to foreign medicines.

"Egypt has already made significant strides in this regard, manufacturing local versions of foreign drugs that have equivalent efficacy," he said.

Moreover, the Egyptian pharmaceutical trading company EgyDrug has ensured the availability of imported medications that have no local alternatives among its network of 28 affiliated pharmacies, Ouf highlighted.

"If citizens have any inquiries regarding the medicine, they can contact the hotline 15301 of the EDA," he concluded.

Devaluing the Egyptian pound, adjusting forced pricing, and promoting acceptance of locally produced medicines are potential solutions to this pressing issue.

In a general overview, Egypt’s pharmaceutical market size is expected to reach EGP 120 billion by the end of 2023, with an annual increase ranging between 15 and 20 percent.

The country’s medical and pharmaceutical exports are further projected to increase by over 96 percent to $1.9 billion in 2023 compared to $968 million in 2022, according to the data obtained by Ahram Online from the FEDCOC.

However, the country’s imports are anticipated to decline by 28.5 percent, reaching $500 million in 2023 from $700 million in 2022.   

Market revenues are projected to reach $1,437 million by the end of 2023, with expectations that Oncology Drugs will be the largest market, with a volume of $217.7 million, according to Statista, a German data collection platform.

Moreover, market revenues are projected to show an annual growth rate of 6.27 percent during the period between 2023 and 2028, resulting in a volume of $1,948 million by 2028.

Currently, Egypt's strategic stock of medicines is enough to cover 6-12 months of local consumption, and the country’s inventory of medicines without substitutes can cover local requirements for three to six months.

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