Medicine shortage persists in Russia after war begins in Ukraine

Customers stand at windows while buying medicine at a pharmacy in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP picture)

First came the warnings, in messages between friends and families and on social media, to stock up on life-saving drugs in Russia before supplies were affected by crippling Western sanctions following the invasion of Russia. Ukraine.

Then some drugs indeed became harder to find in pharmacies in Moscow and other cities.

“No pharmacy in town has it now,” a Kazan resident told The Associated Press in late March of a blood thinner her father needed.

Experts and Russian health authorities say drug shortages are temporary – due to panic buying and logistical difficulties for suppliers because of sanctions – but some fear high-quality drugs will continue to disappear from the market Russian.

“There will most likely be shortages. How catastrophic it will be, I don’t know,” said Dr. Alexey Erlikh, head of the cardiac intensive care unit at Moscow’s No. 29 Hospital and a professor at Pirogov Moscow Medical University.

Reports that Russians could not find certain drugs in pharmacies began to surface in early March, shortly after Moscow launched a war against Ukraine, and sweeping sanctions left Russia increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.

Patient’s Monitor, a patient rights group in Russia’s Dagestan region on the Caspian Sea, began receiving complaints in the second week of March.

Ziyautdin Uvaysov, leader of the group, told AP that he personally checked with several public pharmacies in the region for the availability of the 10 most wanted drugs and “they didn’t have a huge number of them.”

Uvaysov added that when he asked when supplies would be replenished, pharmacies replied that “there are none and it is not known when there will be”.

Despite assurances from authorities that hoarding of supplies was behind the rapid emptying of shelves, reports of shortages persisted throughout March.

Vrachi.Rf, one of Russia’s largest online communities for medical workers, surveyed more than 3,000 doctors in mid-March, and they said they had encountered shortages of more than 80 drugs: anti-inflammatories , gastrointestinal, antiepileptics and anticonvulsants, as well as antidepressants and antipsychotics.

A dozen people contacted by the AP in different cities in late March said they spent days searching for certain thyroid medications, types of insulin or even a popular painkiller syrup for children. Some said they were unable to find them at all.

“The patients I treat have lost some blood pressure medications,” Erlikh said. “And some doctors I know are reporting problems with some very expensive and very important drugs (used in) some surgeries.”

Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has repeatedly assured that drug availability was not a problem in the country and blamed any shortages on panic buying. He said demand for some drugs had increased tenfold in recent weeks and he urged Russians not to hoard the drugs.

Experts agree that panic buying has played a role in creating drug shortages.

“People rushed to get supplies, and in some cases supplies that were supposed to last a year or a year and a half were bought up in a month,” Nikolay Bespalov, the company’s development director, told AP. RNC Pharma analysis.

Bespalov also pointed to the logistical problems that arose at the start of the crisis. While major Western pharmaceutical companies have pledged not to withdraw life-saving drugs from the Russian market, the sanctions have cut major Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system, hampering international payments. Dozens of countries have halted air traffic with Russia, disrupting supply chains.

The expert pointed out that logistical problems have largely been resolved, but that panic buying, prompted by fears that foreign companies will cut off supplies, could continue to fuel shortages for some time.

“Obviously, until the emotions calm down, it will continue,” Bespalov said.

Local news sites – from Vladimir, just east of Moscow, to the Kemerovo region of Siberia – reported shortages of various drugs in the final days of March amid continued panic buying.

Russian health care watchdog Roszdravnadzor, however, said in a statement on Friday that “the situation in the drug market is gradually returning to normal, with panic buying of pharmaceuticals decreasing.”

Erlikh, the cardiologist, pointed to already existing problems with quality drugs in Russia, which by some estimates imports up to 40% of its drugs.

After the authorities launched an import substitution policy to counter the sanctions linked to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and to promote its own medicines rather than those produced abroad, the shortage of certain imported medicines became a problem.

The policy defined a wide range of preferences for Russian companies and ultimately made it unprofitable for foreign pharmaceutical companies to supply some of their expensive, high-quality drugs to Russia.

In 2015, public purchases of drugs for hospitals and state-funded clinics, which account for up to 80% of the Russian pharmaceutical market, became subject to the “three is a crowd” rule, which excluded foreign companies if at least two Russian companies bid. for a contract.

The government has also continued to add new drugs to the list of “vital drugs” – a register of more than 800 essential drugs, for which the authorities set mandatory – and relatively low prices. Companies can request a change in the fixed price once a year, but the process is long, highly bureaucratic and does not lead to a guaranteed result.

“We have already gradually lost one important original drug after another. Generics are taking their place, and while there are some pretty good ones made in Europe, there are also some dodgy ones made in Russia,” Erlikh said.

“Of course, when there is no original drug, a generic is better than nothing. But it’s a situation of (voluntarily) lowering the bar, it’s not a good way to live,” he added.

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