Drug Crisis Escalating in Egypt After the Pharmacists Syndicate Decided to Hold a Strike on Jan. 15

In a press conference, the Pharmacists Syndicate confirmed that it will go on a six-hour strike on 15 January in protest against to the government’s decision to not increase profit margins for pharmacies.

The syndicate said it took such a decision after all other efforts to solve the issue of random medication pricing have failed.

The statement said, “The syndicate has addressed the Ministry of Health to solve the drug crisis.” It also added that it was met by silence from the ministry which took the side of the companies.

The syndicate stressed that their decision to strike is not directed against citizens, but is for the common good. According to the statement,” “On the contrary, this decision was taken to improve the availability of medicine to the public and will help stop monopolization.”

It also added that the syndicate remains an entity that supports stability in the country. It said it decision resulted in protest against the arbitrary policies of pharmaceutical companies to recall expired medication.

On the other side, Mahmoud Abdel Maqsoud, head of the Public Pharmaceutical Division of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, said that the division refuses the decision to strike.

He said that the division represents more than 80% of the country’s pharmacies and not the syndicate, which represents only individual pharmacists who have official permits to practice the profession, but do not necessarily operate pharmacies.

Around 80% of the country’s pharmacies are not obliged to follow the syndicate’s decisions, according to Abdel Maqsoud. He explained that he wants to allow pharmacists to increase profit margins to 25% on local medicine, and 18% on imported drugs.

He also pointed to his disagreement with the idea of “striking “as a tool to pressure the government, and called for more negotiations with the Ministry of Health and the manufacturing companies.

The Floating decision and the Drug Crisis

The drug shortage reached a crisis stage after the government floated the pound. The Egyptian government put strict regulation on drug prices, so pharmaceutical companies haven’t been able to raise prices.

On the other hand, the companies must pay about twice as much now to import the medicines or their ingredients. Their only alternative, some say, is to reduce imports and set restrictions on distribution, which they have done.

The Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Industry Chamber Ahmed El-Ezabi said that the pharmaceutical sector became unstable following the Central Bank’s decision. Agreeing to float the pound, however, helped Egypt secure a $12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

In response, Egypt’s’ Minister of Health suggested imposing a 50% increase annually on 10% of all pharmaceutical products, with promised to reduce the fees for customs, water, electricity, and gas, in addition to an exemption from the value-added tax. But the pharmaceutical companies rejected the suggestion, so the minister proposed increasing prices every six months, rather than every year.

On the other hand, the crisis took a different aspect as the syndicate protested from being marginalized in setting the policies that regulates the drugs price purchase.

The head of the Pharmacist Syndicate Moehi Ebeid said that the pharmaceutical companies has stopped their production hoping that the raise in prices of drugs would reach 50% every six months as promised by the minister of health.

In addition, the syndicate accused the government of marginalizing the syndicate by holding several meetings with the pharmaceutical companies and the chamber without the attendance of the syndicate members.

In this context, the Pharmacist Syndicate stated that it was impossible to remain calm and watch pharmaceutical companies prohibit pharmacists from increasing their profit margins, which they say would affect pharmaceutical companies’ profits, not that of the customer.

In fact, syndicate cited previous court verdicts, arguing that the profit margin has been the same for over the last 30 years.

In this context, the Head of the Pharmacists Syndicate Mohy Naqeb protested in the press conference against what he called the marginalization of the syndicate.

The syndicate mentioned that according to the Constitution, the ministry has to involve it in any talks that involve potential price increases in medication. In addition, it pointed that any increases without detailed accurate studies and by discussions with the syndicate and its members may be a sign the medicine companies are looking to maximize their profits at the expense of the citizens.

The Egyptian market has suffered from a severe shortage of imported medication amid the decision of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to float the Egyptian pound early in November. Moreover, the decision led to a dramatic increase in the cost of importing and producing drugs.