Drug Dealers vs. Drug Businessmen [Archives:2007/1013/Business & Economy]

January 4 2007

Raidan A. Al-Saqqaf
[email protected]
and Mahyub Al-Kamali

Health is a basic objective of development, and access to healthcare is a fundamental human right. Therefore state subsidy of healthcare services and the investing in healthcare infrastructure is essential to realizing human development on any level, regardless of the per-capita purchasing parity, size of the economy or political development for the purpose of the wellbeing of the society. Economic theory indicates that providing better healthcare services is a prerequisite for increases in productivity, therefore investing in health services is a vital component for growth and development.

Yemeni people suffer from poor living conditions in general, with poverty, gender inequality; poor health and environmental pollution are all factors that attribute to this suffering. One of the prime examples is the availability and pricing of drugs and pharmaceuticals that many people depend on in order to improve their health and wellbeing. Surveys have indicated that Yemeni patients have a high level of morbidity, with patients suffering from diseases and undesired medical complications in spite of the advanced in drug research and development to produce cures to chronic illnesses.

Yemen Times has surveyed on the subject, and in the process met with Mr. Hassan Abdu who described pharmacists as businessmen above the law, he says “people working in this profession should be humans before being capitalists indicating that the drugs are not available through the official channels and have to be smuggled into the country through what is known as suitcase businessmen” those are pharmacists who travel aboard Yemen to shop for medicines and then sell them in Yemen with huge margins and no government monitoring.

Mr. Abdullatif Ahmed said, while rushing to exist out of one of the public hospitals, “see how many prescriptions I have, I go to different pharmacies in different locations, each one giving me a different quotation for the drugs and also names and prices of other less-expensive drugs which can substitute for the drugs listed” he also adds “this gives you the feeling that the drugs you buy are not the cure, they are simply medicines on which you try to get a good bargain on and perhaps buy them at heavy discounts or sudden price hikes attached to the claim that the authorized importer have increased the prices.”

Other opinions point to the notion that decision makers, government officials and wealthy people do not care about the average citizen, monitoring is weak and inefficient, therefore freedom is given to pharmacists to take advantage of the situation and hijack the patients in search of the drug. Najeeb, a pharmacy owner, says it has become a lucrative business, says that if a pharmacy has to support its business by relying on the regulated trade of retailing drugs from manufacturers and authorized importers it would barely cover its expenses. He says that drug smuggling have become such an organized and integral part of the pharmaceutical business to the extent that many pharmacies contract people traveling abroad to buy the medicines, he even said that there is a pharmacy in Frankfurt that is willing to deliver the drugs requested all the way to Frankfurt airport and sell them to customers who pay cash-on-delivery.

Another source indicated that several drug retailers import what is known as 'fake drugs', which are copycat drugs looking very similar to the original brands with a minor difference but having a considerable price difference, making the price-sensitive Yemeni consumer opt for the fake version of the drug under the eyes of government agencies and through us, we as pharmacists find it highly unethical to be involved in such transactions, however, the sale margins are lucrative while having the authorities looking the other way makes us more or less addicted to this sort of business.

There are good sides and bad sides to the health situation in Yemen, on the one hand, the amount of health infrastructure have increased while the nature of services have improved, most tangibly thanks to intensive vaccination programs. Overall progress has been made, however, cretins parts of the 'healing cycle' have to be seriously reformed, especially when it comes to the trade in drugs and pharmaceuticals.