The sight of empty shelves in the majority of pharmacies throughout Lebanon demonstrates the extent of the crisis the country’s health sector is enduring.
Pharmacies have been suffering from the drop in the value of the local currency and the people’s hording of medicine before the state stops subsidizing them, which would lead to their prices increasing a whopping six-fold.
The hording continued in spite of assurances from the health minister and parliamentary health committee that the subsidies will not be lifted. They explained that the prices of medicine to treat chronic diseases will remain the same, while over the counter drugs and others that need a prescription will increase by 2.5 their original price and based on the Central Bank exchange rate of 3,900 pounds to the dollar.
The Lebanese have stocked up on medicine that they need and those that they don’t need, making them among the main reason for the drop in supplies.
“There are more medicines at homes than at our warehouses,” said head of the Pharmacists Syndicate, Ghassan al-Amin.
Head of Pharmaceuticals Importers Association, Karim Jebara said that within 15 days, some 200,000 boxes of aspirin and 250,000 boxes of its substitute, Aspicot, were imported. They are now practically out of stock in pharmacies.
The medicine shortage has even affected supplies of baby milk, which is exclusively sold at pharmacies.
One pharmacy owner said a real crisis is unfolding because the people are hording the milk at home, fearing a shortage in supplies and hike in price.
A pediatrician told Asharq Al-Awsat that the milk that is in short supply is primarily given to one-year-olds and above. This product is unsubsidized and is likely being stored by pharmacies so that they can sell it at increased prices once the health ministry announces a new price list.
One father revealed that he had purchased 70 boxes of baby milk for his newborn child. Now, however, he has been confronted with a shortage in baby food, which the infant should take when he reaches the age of six months.
“I even offered one pharmacy some of the boxes I had bought in exchange for some of the baby food, but the told me that they are out,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity.
Amin told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Lebanese people can rest easy whenever they have stocks of medicine at their homes, blaming the Central Bank’s announcement that it will lift subsidies for sparking the panic-buying among the population.
The solution lies in the prime minister-designate and Central Bank governor declaring frankly to the people that medicine supplies will be kept away from political tensions, he suggested.
Jebara said the lack of trust between the people and state has led to the panic-buying. He urged the Central Bank to declare that it has enough funds to continue to subsidize medicine until the end of 2021 so the people can be at ease.