Civilians pay the price in Iraq as Mafia-run drug trade sees prices skyrocket

Iraqi citizens bear the brunt of escalating medical costs, as the government fails to crack down on the mafias controlling the medical trade in the country or support the sorely neglected local pharmaceutical industry.

Rising drug prices in Iraq are preventing many people from affording what was previously provided free. As mafia-like networks linked to influential political actors control the import, distribution and price of drugs, Iraqi officials warn that the Ministry of Health is unable to offer an effective solution to the unfolding humanitarian crisis .

This year, drug prices have seen a sharp increase due to the rising dollar exchange rate and the Covid-19 pandemic, among other factors. As a result, dozens of deaths were recorded in hospitals across the country as critically ill patients could not afford the drugs they needed and were forced to search on the black market.

Despite the gravity of the situation, the health ministry has not pushed for concrete proposals to tackle the problem. According to a health official who preferred to remain anonymous, “the ministry is monitoring the case and plans to tackle the situation by coordinating with the security services. He also ran campaigns targeting drugstore owners, demanding that they cap the prices of various drugs. . However, these campaigns have not yet had much effect on prices. “

“Rising drug prices in Iraq are preventing many people from paying for what was previously provided for free”

Unscrupulous traders controlling the drug market

He continues, in a conversation with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arabic Sister publication in Arabic: “This problem has been around for years, and at the moment the country is effectively dependent on drug traffickers who control imports according to demand. “

He pointed out, “Relying on these traders has left the ministry powerless to control the prices or quality of drugs in the country, a huge amount of which is produced without monitoring or complying with any kind of health regulations.

“The ministry has plans to reform the system, which focus on increasing government imports and repairing the health system so that free medicines are again provided in hospitals and health centers. However, it takes time and substantial funding to implement.

Lack of government oversight along with ministerial corruption has led to a drug crisis in Iraq’s healthcare sector [Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty]

Despite the ministry’s campaigns targeting pharmacies, around 70 percent of drugs sold in Iraq (many imported from European and Western manufacturers) are not subject to these controls.

MP Amer Al-Fayez confirms that the problem has become critical and requires rapid treatment: “The problem is dominated by mafias who control the importation as well as the distribution to drug suppliers and pharmacies, exploiting the lack of control government. This allowed them to set the prices as high as they wanted without worrying about the citizens.

“The problem requires serious action by the ministry – not just lip service. The government must appoint a special task force to monitor and pursue this problem from start to finish – from the time of importation through. sale to citizens. There must also be a strong accountability mechanism for those who break the law and penalties must be enforced. “

“The problem is dominated by the mafias who control importation as well as distribution to medical providers and pharmacies, exploiting the lack of government oversight.”

The disappearance of the Iraqi pharmaceutical industry

He mentions the disappearance of the Iraqi pharmaceutical industry, stressing that “Iraqi factories were manufacturing drugs and that Iraq had a certain degree of self-sufficiency in this area. However, today they are struggling and need the support of the government. Not only that, but bespoke plans need implementation to help them increase their production in a way that will support the local healthcare market with some of the drugs it needs. “

The Iraqi Pharmacists Union criticized the ministry’s plans, insisting the problem would not be solved by attempts to investigate pharmacies alone. Samer Khalidi, a union member, said: “They always focus only on pharmacies. And yes, that can be part of the solution – but it is by no means enough.”

Need a complete solution

Khalidi further explains: “The problem requires a comprehensive approach, starting with import contracts. Then, they must implement quality control on drugs, cover the needs of hospitals in terms of free drugs and support the pharmaceutical industry sector in the country. for this they need to crack down on the ministry’s corruption around medical contracts, and after all that comes the step of forming teams to monitor and investigate pharmacies in order to cut prices – pharmacies are the last link in the chain. when it comes to price escalation. “

He added: “We are not denying that many pharmacies are exploiting the situation, however, it is essentially the traders who control the prices. Without a plan to tackle the problem comprehensively, there is no chance that drug prices can be brought under control, and the health ministry is responsible. ”

Ministry corruption

The Iraqi Integrity Commission (an independent commission that investigates corruption in the Iraqi government) has repeatedly reported cases of corruption involving the purchase of drugs and medical supplies within the ministry.

Last month, the commission announced the seizure “of a large quantity of expired drugs which entered Dhi Qar province, the expiration dates of which have been falsified.”

The commission also recorded an incident of corruption in Maysan province where attempts to sell medical equipment at “prices well above market costs” were detected and prevented.

An additional factor that contributed to the sharp rise in drug prices was the decision of the Ministry of Finance to devalue the Iraqi currency in December 2020 – the exchange rate rose from 1,200 Iraqi dinars to $ 1 to 1,450 dinars at $ 1. Today, the exchange rate has fallen again to 1,480 dinars to $ 1.

Soaring drug costs are one of Iraq’s major problems today, and as hospitals suffer from a severe shortage of medical supplies, Iraqi patients bear the cost of purchasing imported drugs. in pharmacies at exorbitant prices.

This is an edited translation of our Arabic edition. To read the original article, click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

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