Medicine shortage looms in Tunisia as wholesale suppliers begin strike

The country has suffered a shortage of basic goods including medicine and some food items in recent months

Overview of the Ben Arous Hospital, the country's main burn hospital, in Ben Arous, a suburb of Tunis, Tunisia.
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Tunisian wholesale medicine distributors suspended their distribution activities on Monday, a move health professionals say will lead to shortages of vital drugs.

The wholesalers are one of the main sources of medical supplies for pharmacies.

The strike follows a rejection of their request to the Ministry of Finance to be exempt from government-required discounts suppliers are obliged to offer this year.

Tunisia's government has been allowing medicine suppliers an exemption since 2006, since the net profit margin of suppliers is less than the discount rate they would be forced to offer, but the exemption was removed earlier this year.

In a statement to radio station Mosaique, the president of the National Chamber for Wholesale Supplying Pharmacists, Ahmed Karray, said that 70 institutions are on the verge of bankruptcy due to the financial burdens they are facing, a problem they say needs government intervention.

“We have been trying to negotiate with them [the government] since April of this year, but we've had no response from them,” Mr Karray said. “Medicine is a vital matter and both the state and the ruling authority need to find a solution for this sector.”

Meanwhile, private pharmacy owners warned that their current supplies can only last for three days in cities and only one day in rural areas.

“The suspension of wholesale distribution of medicine will have dire repercussions on citizens in terms of their health security, especially for those suffering from chronic diseases,” Thouraya Naifer, secretary general of the Tunisian Syndicate for Private Pharmacy Owners, told Tunisia's state press agency, TAP.

Ms Naifer also warned that the black market in medicine will prosper under such circumstances.

Representatives of the Tunisian health ministry have told local media outlets that another round of negotiations is currently taking place with wholesale suppliers.

They said that financial matters do not fall under their ministry’s jurisdiction but are instead a matter requiring the approval of the finance ministry.

Updated: December 05, 2022, 5:51 PM