Bahrain's health chiefs deny medicines shortage
Manama, June 5, 2014
Health chiefs have moved to reassure patients after it emerged there was a shortage of certain medicines in pharmacies.
Major drugs for treating diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions, thyroid problems and high cholesterol are either out of stock or supplies are running low, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
However, National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) chief executive Dr Baha Eldin Fateha said "hundreds of other alternatives" were available.
Pharmacies claim the shortage is a result of Bahrain introducing a cap on the price of medicines last month, saying international suppliers had stopped providing medications because of lower revenues.
However, Dr Fateha denied that claim and blamed the shortage of at least one drug on "logistical" problems faced by the local agents.
"These claims are unfounded and are nothing but rumours being spread by pharmacy owners," he told the GDN.
"The shortage of Glucophage has been brought to the notice of the Health Ministry and it is because of some logistical issues being sorted out between the company and the agents."
Glucophage is taken by diabetes patients, while other medications either out of stock or running low are Concor5 (for high blood pressure and heart conditions), Euthyrox (thyroid problems) and Lipitor (high cholesterol).
Pharmacies in Bahrain claimed Merck, Pfizer and Novartis were no longer supplying drugs to Bahrain due to price reductions, which saw the cost of more than 1,000 medicines slashed by up to 60 per cent last month.
However, Dr Fateha said he had confirmation from the companies' Bahraini agents that this was not the case.
"As confirmed by local agents, none of these three companies have given any hint about leaving Bahrain," he said.
"Companies have to give sufficient notice to their agents if they plan to cancel their agreements."
However, one Pakistani resident said the current shortage of Concor5 and Glucophage meant he asked a taxi driver to go to Saudi Arabia to purchase the medications for his wife - more than doubling the price.
"Concor5 and Glucophage are medicines among the five drugs that my wife needs every month, which cost us a total of around BD50 ($131.8)," he said.
"We used to buy this from a Bahrain pharmacy that informed us these drugs were out of stock.
"We went around seven pharmacies in the country searching for these two medicines, but in vain.
"I had to depend on a Bahraini taxi driver who went to Saudi Arabia to get them as it was an emergency."
The NHRA announced in January a reduction in the price of the most commonly used medications and pharmacies were given until May 15 to ensure a new pricing structure, which also reduced their profit margins, was in place.
It was part of a multi-phased plan to unify the cost of medications across the GCC.
Prices of antibiotics, skin medication and drugs used by HIV/Aids patients are also due to be reduced in price in October.
Another medication currently in short supply is Viagra, which Dr Fateha said was due to ongoing negotiations over the price.
"The non-availability of Viagra is being unnecessarily hyped up, which is unwarranted," he said.
"The dispute is whether to categorise it as a luxury category prior to applying the price reduction.
"Discussions are ongoing between the company and the agent."
Kims Bahrain Medical Centre Pharmacy chief G Muthu Kumar confirmed that alternatives to medications provided by large companies such as Merck and Pfizer were available.
"Medicines for hypertension and diabetes supplied by Merck and Pfizer are not anymore available in Bahrain," he said.
"Brands like Lipitor for cholesterol from Pfizer and painkiller like Voltarin from Novartis are other drugs that are in short supply.
"We do have alternatives, but patients who are usually long term users of a particular medicine find it difficult to switch."
Meanwhile, former chairman of the Pharmacies Owners and Importers Society and Gulf Pharmacy chief executive Dr Khalid Alawadhi urged authorities to look into importing more generic medications into Bahrain.
"By going generic we will have a solution to the current shortage of medicines in the market," he said.
"This move will also help patients as the original medicines are always far more expensive compared to the brands." - TradeArabia News Service