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As pharmacies in Lebanon face a serious shortage of drugs, professionals in the sector closed shop for a general strike on Friday, in this country which is going through an unprecedented political and economic crisis.
An endless downward spiral. As Lebanon sinks into the economic crisis, pharmacies lowered the curtain on Friday July 9 to denounce drug shortages across the country. Imports of medicines have been virtually at a standstill for over a month, due to the absence of new lines of credit authorized by the Banque du Liban (BDL) and unpaid bills to foreign suppliers.
In pharmacies, it is practically impossible to find simple pain relievers, infant milk, but also treatments for chronic diseases. An association of pharmacists announced Thursday a general strike across Lebanon. “Nearly 80% of pharmacies have respected the strike in Beirut and in the big cities”, against 50% in the countryside, said Friday an official of the association, Ali Safa.
All along the coast north of Beirut, a densely urbanized area, pharmacies were closed, noted an AFP photographer, as were a large number of establishments in Beirut and its suburbs. In a country paralyzed by the political quarrels of the big parties which have failed for 11 months to form a new government or to launch crucial economic reforms, the Lebanese pound continues its depreciation, approaching Friday the new record of 19,500 pounds for a dollar on the black market.
This context raises fears of a social implosion, while Lebanon, short of foreign currencies, seeks to review its system of subsidies which made it possible to curb the price of imports. And it is now the health sector that is in the spotlight.
Medicines not found
For months, Internet users have been looking for drugs on social networks. Travelers arrive from abroad with medicines in their suitcases requested by family and friends. Elie, 48, spent four hours in pharmacies looking for a drug to treat his excessive uric acid concentration in his blood.
“Each time, I am told the same answer: ‘We do not have any, we were not delivered'”, he laments. Sunday, the union of drug importers sounded the alarm on stockouts affecting “hundreds” of products. With depreciation synonymous with rising prices, the Banque du Liban in principle provides dollars to importers at a rate much more advantageous than that of the black market.
But currency rationing complicates import procedures, and the BDL has been asking the Ministry of Health for months for a list of priority drugs to continue to be funded. “What is needed today is for the Ministry of Health to sign the priority drug lists. The companies will then begin to supply the drugs” to pharmacies, either according to the market price, or the subsidized price. , argues Ali Safa.
According to industry officials, the BDL will allocate $ 50 million per month to drugs, or half of the current monthly import bill.
Fuel and electricity crisis
In a country stuck in one of the worst economic crises in the world since 1850, according to the World Bank, more than half of the population lives below the poverty line. Last blow, the elimination at the end of June of part of the subsidies allocated to fuel, the price of which at the pump has increased by 55% in ten days.
And this increase has not solved the shortages. Every day, motorists park for hours in front of gas stations, queues forming even before dawn. The lack of fuel also affects electricity production and power cuts reach up to 22 hours per day.
Electricité du Liban announced on Friday “the shutdown of the Zahrani and Deir Ammar power stations, due in particular to the exhaustion of the stock” of fuel. And the Water Company has announced “rationing in the distribution of water” in the north and south, citing power cuts and the exhaustion of fuel stocks. In the fall of 2019, the country experienced an unprecedented uprising denouncing a political class accused of corruption and incompetence, dominated for decades by the same officials and the same families.