Syria’s Ministry of Health allowed last week pharmaceutical companies to raise the price of their products by up to 50 percent in order to ease the shortages of pharmaceutical products and as a response to rising costs for manufacturers.
In a statement published on its website, the Damascus Union of Pharmacists said that medicines that cost up to SYP 100.00 would see their prices increase by 50 percent, while for medicines priced above SYP 100.00 the increase will be of only 25 percent.
The price of medicines in Syria is strictly regulated and is fixed by the Ministry of Health. The ministry bases its pricing on the production costs and on specific margins for each of the manufacturers, distributors and pharmacists. The increase is the second since the beginning of this year. In February the ministry had raised medicine prices by between 5 and 40 percent.
The cost of producing medicines in Syria increased in the last two years because of the decline in the value of the pound, which increased the cost of imported active ingredients, and of the rise in other costs. Because they could not raise their sale price many manufacturers had stopped production.
After the latest increase prices remain very low by regional and global standards. Hence, a pack of 20 tablets of 500mg generic paracetamol, or acetaminophen, can now be found at SYP 65.00 or USD 0.27 (27 cents) at today’s currency rate of 240 pounds per dollar.
The government had justified its refusal to raise prices until now on the basis of its policy of ensuring the supply of low cost medicines to the population. Syria’s health sector, in general, is strictly regulated by the government. The policies carried by the Baath Party in the last five decades have enabled the supply of basic medical services for all the population across the country. These policies have included making available medical centres throughout Syria; the obligation made to young medicine graduates and pharmacists to serve in rural areas for a limited period of time following their graduation; and price regulation of medicines and of fees charged by doctors.
Before the uprising Syria’s production of medicines met around 90 percent of local demand. In the last two years, however, the government and international organizations such as the WHO had reported periodic shortages of specific medicines in government-held areas. In opposition-held areas, the situation is much more dire and shortages more prevalent. Currently, only 50 percent of demand is estimated to be supplied by local production.
In order to increase supplies the government eased, at the beginning of this year, the requirements to import medicines. It allowed traders, for instance, to import medicines through the Lebanese borders rather than through the airport.
The price ceilings imposed on medicines has meant that the average annual per capita expenditure on medicines in Syria stood at USD 40.00 compared with USD 120.00 in each of Jordan and Lebanon, according to a recent study by the Syrian Business Council.