Spotlight: Turkey faces shortages of medicine due to currency fluctuations

Source: Xinhua| 2019-02-21 04:34:14|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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ANKARA, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- The currency depreciation happened last year is still influencing Turkey's medicine market, as drug companies reduced supply to avoid fluctuations, leading more patients return from pharmacies empty-handed as a result of medicine shortages.

The pharmacies accused the drug warehouses of not providing enough medicines and they had to supply drugs from each other.

Turkey's Ministry of Health regulates drug market on a method of indexing prices to a fixed Lira-Euro exchange rate for drug purchases, setting the Euro rate at 2.69 Liras at the beginning of 2018.

However, the local currency had lost nearly 50 percent of its value in the same year. The Euro is traded at 5.99 Liras Wednesday and the exchange rate for pharmaceuticals in 2018 was barely half the current market rate.

The increasing gap between the fixed exchange rate and the real foreign exchange prices lies at the heart of the problem.

As a new adjustment of fixing exchange was set on February 19, the drug stores abstained to deliver medicine to pharmacies and medicine shortages came to a crisis point in February, according to Suzan Yilmaz, who works in a pharmacy in Cankaya district of Capital Ankara.

"We have been facing this problem for two to three months," she said, adding that medicines for insulin, cardiovascular diseases, and high blood pressure were even harder to find.

There was already difficulty in the production and import of certain drugs due to the rising costs associated with the depreciation of the Lira.

The expectation of an increase in drug prices worsened supply of a large number of drugs in the market in recent weeks.

Last week, the Ministry of Health announced that they would increase medicine price by 26.4 percent for 2019 in line with the increase in foreign currency.

"We have reached an agreement with the pharma industry regarding the exchange rate adjustment which took effect on Feb. 19," the Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca told state-run Anadolu Agency.

"The value of 1 Euro used to calculate the drug prices would be the 70 percent of the annual average Euro value. We agreed with the pharma industry that this coefficient should be 60 percent. Thus, the exchange rate has been hiked by 26.4 percent," he added.

In his earlier statement, the minister said there were shortages for 41 types of medicines in the market, although they increased the amount of drug supply for 17 percent.

"Some warehouses, producers, and pharmacies hoarded drugs anticipating a hike in drug prices," the minister said, noting that they carried out inspections and determined that 42 producers, 20 warehousemen and 32 pharmacists hoarding drugs to sell after the price hike.

"As a result of the amendment, we see the consensus with the pharmaceutical sector as a positive step for the relief of access to medicine," the Turkish Pharmacists Association (TEB) said in a written statement.

The amendment will ease the drug industry, but the problems of the patients and pharmacies will continue, said the TEB, stressing that as the price of the drug increases, the pharmacists' profitability decreases and expenses are increasing.

In a long term, indigenous drug policies need to be developed to be independent of the Euro rate for easy and qualified medicine access, said the TEB.

"We have been living this hardship for the past three years," said Zafer Cenap Sarialioglu, Chairperson of the Istanbul Chamber of Pharmacists.

The medicine prices are updated on Feb. 19 as a rule, therefore the companies limit supply in the previous three months in order to sell on increased prices, according to Sarialioglu.

He proposed to make price amendments in every three months instead of once a year.