Lebanese drug importers warn of shortage of essential drugs


BEIRUT – Lebanon’s drug importers said on Sunday they were running out of hundreds of essential drugs and warned of further shortages as the country’s severe financial crisis hits the healthcare sector.

The Lebanese are grappling with a series of shortages, including gasoline, as the interim government discusses removing subsidies it can no longer afford amid what the World Bank considers one of the worst financial crises in the world since the 1850s.

The local currency lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, but the central bank provided importers with dollars at a much cheaper official rate to cover much of the cost of imported drugs.

“Imports of drugs have almost completely stopped over the past month,” the Association of Pharmaceutical Importers said in a statement.

The union said the central bank failed to release dollars pledged to pay overseas suppliers, who owe more than $ 600 million in dues accumulated since December and importers cannot secure new lines of credit. .

“The stocks of hundreds of drugs from importing companies to treat chronic and incurable diseases are exhausted,” he warned.

“And hundreds more will run out until July if we can’t resume imports as soon as possible.”

Union leader Karim Gebara said some drugs to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis were already out of stock.

If nothing is done, “the situation will be catastrophic by the end of July” depriving “hundreds of thousands of patients” of their drugs, he warned.

On Thursday, President Michel Aoun said he had agreed with ministers and the head of the central bank to “continue to subsidize drugs and medical supplies” selected by the health ministry based on priorities.

Lives in danger

The Lebanese state supplies less than five hours of electricity per day in most areas, as it struggles to find foreign currency for fuel imports.

In recent months, Lebanese motorists have had to queue for hours outside gas stations in scorching heat as fuel was scarce.

The cost of filling a car with gas has risen 55% in the past two weeks as the government slashed fuel subsidies.

Hospitals have also warned that worsening power cuts and fuel shortages are also having a severe impact on the healthcare sector.

The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted the head of the private hospitals union, Sleiman Haroun, as saying that hospitals had enough fuel stocks to run the generators for only two days, instead of two weeks.

Firass Abiad, the head of Rafic Hariri’s main public hospital battling the COVID-19 pandemic, said patients’ lives were also in danger.

“For most hospitals in Lebanon, the main concern right now is not the Delta (coronavirus) variant, nor the shortages of supplies. The main concern now is electricity, without which medical equipment cannot function, ”Abiad wrote on Twitter.

“Old generators can’t keep running all the time. When they collapse, lives will be in danger.

The government resigned after a deadly explosion at a port on August 4 last year, but a deeply divided political class failed to agree on a new cabinet to lift the country out of the crisis.

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