The head of the Syndicate of Pharmaceutical Importers and Warehouses in Lebanon, Karim Jbara, presented in an interview with “Lebanon 24” the sector’s problems and concerns, and reassured that “the importing companies will continue to provide the market’s needs on a monthly basis, until the financial situation improves or the capabilities of the Central Bank improve, or even until a source of financing is secured.” else“.
Here is the text of the interview
asked: What is the position of the Syndicate of Drug Importing Companies regarding the decision to lift the subsidy on the vast majority of medicines? What is the comment of your union and companies on this matter?
MP Hariri: We believe that the Lebanese citizen needs assistance in order to be able to obtain the minimum amount of health care. We believe that the Lebanese state must find the necessary way to support the health bill, so that the patient can obtain the most basic rights with regard to treatment. The role of the state in this field is not limited to supporting the import of medicine or the commodity itself, but the state can support the patient directly, or support guarantors such as social security and others. Finally, the patient must be helped to pay his health bill within his purchasing power.
Question: Did you have anything to do with the decision to lift the last subsidy, knowing that everyone understands that this was your demand in the first place, especially in light of the exchange of responsibilities between the importing companies on the one hand, and the official bodies with all their components on the other hand, specifically the Parliamentary Health Committee, the Ministry of Health and the Banque du Liban? ?
Answer: The decision to lift the subsidy was taken by the Ministry of Public Health after taking note of the funds available at the Central Bank to support the health bill. In this context, it is known that the Banque du Liban allocates about 35 million US dollars for support per month. After calculating the value of basics such as medical supplies, raw materials necessary for industry, and milk, as well as medicines for incurable diseases such as cancer, only 7 or 8 million dollars per month were left for medicines for chronic diseases. Of course, this amount is not at all sufficient to cover all Lebanon’s needs for chronic diseases medicines, which necessitated the ministry to take the difficult decision, which required a gradual reduction of subsidies for these medicines, by reducing subsidies for lower-priced medicines and maintaining a higher subsidy rate for medicines with higher prices, With some exceptions, of course, such as insulin, nerve drugs, etc.
Question: How long will it take for the importing companies to import and redistribute all kinds of medicines after the subsidy has been lifted, for the citizen to be able to buy them after the long interruption of many of them?
MP Hariri: First, to be clear, the subsidy was not increased, as is currently being circulated, but it was partially reduced on chronic disease medications. After the decision to reduce subsidies on chronic disease medicines was issued, most drug importing companies submitted pre-approval requests to the Ministry of Public Health. The Ministry approved what it saw as a priority, and sent the approvals to the Central Bank. Today, companies are waiting to obtain the approval of the Central Bank in order to actually import shipments to Lebanon. This whole process may take several weeks, depending on the ability of foreign factories to manufacture and secure shipment. It is worth noting that the importing companies have already initiated contact with the manufacturers abroad in order to prepare and start preparing for these shipments in order to speed up their import into Lebanon to meet the urgent needs of the market.
Question: We are going through a stifling financial crisis, so what is your suggestion to enable citizens who receive a limited income to buy medicine of any kind, especially after reducing subsidies?
MP Hariri: As we mentioned previously, we believe that the Lebanese citizen must be helped to pay the health bill in one way or another. It is worth noting that this assistance, regardless of its form or type, may require securing additional amounts of money, and everyone should specify it and work hard to secure it either through international organizations or by other means. We, as the Syndicate of Drug Importers, are ready to put all our capabilities in order to help obtain these additional sums.
Question: We know that there was a specific mechanism for import that required obtaining several prior approvals from the Banque du Liban and the Ministry of Health, so what will be the new mechanism used after the subsidy is lifted?
Answer: The pre-approval mechanism has not changed, since the subsidy was not raised, but rather reduced. The mechanism, if it is still in force, bearing in mind that it does not cover the price of the entire bill, but rather a part of it, according to the price of the drug and according to the treatment category in which it falls..
Question: You recently talked about the project of the electronic system on drug dispensation, which you started working on some time ago, as some private companies were going to cost part of its financing. Can you provide us with the developments of this project? What is its impact on the Lebanese consumer?
Answer: The international drug companies had previously proposed to the Ministry of Public Health to finance an electronic tracking system that would allow monitoring the drug dispensing process to ensure that the actual patient received it, and not the store, smuggler and dealer. I think that the Ministry is currently working on developing the existing system, which is MediTrack. The Ministry also launched the version related to hospitals a few days ago, and I believe that it has started developing the version related to pharmacies. So, this initiative is under way and is being implemented under the supervision of the Ministry of Health.
Question: During the crisis, you repeatedly said that the companies’ drug stocks had run out. Are you able to restructure your stock after lifting the subsidy to meet market needs, especially for medicines for incurable diseases? Will the stockpile be sufficient to meet the needs during the next few months, or will the Lebanese remain afraid of interruption?
Answer: As long as the drug is still subsidized, that is, it is still subject to a monthly budget secured by the Banque du Liban, the quantities that can be imported remain limited and available according to market needs exclusively. Thus, it is impossible to create a sufficient stockpile in the current period, as the funds provided by the Central Bank on a monthly basis are not sufficient to secure a reserve stock that lasts 3 or 4 months, as was the case in the past before the crisis. Consequently, the importing companies will secure the market needs on a monthly basis, until the financial situation improves or the capabilities of the Central Bank improve, or even until another source of funding is secured..