Some patients going to their local pharmacy in Serbia recently have found themselves unpleasantly surprised. Due to financial shortfalls and other issues, production of certain drugs has decreased and the supply is becoming scarce.
Medications for patients suffering from cardiac or psychiatric problems are among those affected.
“Medicines such as Lithium Carbonate, Artane, Fluneren capsules and Plirazid + for months are not available. Some of these medicines have substitutes, but some do not,” the manager at the Information Centre pharmacy in Belgrade, Milana Ducic, told SETimes.
Lack of funds is only part of the issue, Ducic said. The shortages may also be due to labour disputes, problems with documentation and other snags in the production and distribution chain.
“We are the final link in the chain of suppliers, and the link between the patients and the pharmaceutical market. When patients come to us asking why we don’t have medicines they need, we don’t know what to say, as this is not our jurisdiction” Ducic said.
A number of pharmaceutical factories and medical importers are in poor shape, says Sanja Marisavljevic of the Republic Institute for Health Insurance.
“Galenika was on strike this summer and had halted production for a period; Hemofarm also had problems, while Srbolek is bankrupt,” she said.
In recent years, Serbia has seen an increase in medicine imports and, at the same time, a 43.5% drop in production by domestic drug manufacturers. The Institute for Health Insurance, meanwhile, currently owes millions of euros to the pharmaceutical industry, although its debt — currently at 170m euros — has dropped since last year.
According to Marisavljevic, it is true that some medicines are missing, but not due to the Institute’s debts.
“Every year we spend around 310m euros on prescribed medicines and technical aid. We do everything to make medicine available to the patients,” Marisavljevic said.
The Pharmaceutical Chamber of Serbia insists the problem must be solved at the state level. The state intervened once this year, when Galenika, the biggest Serbian pharamceutical manufacturer, was on strike due to debts.
The state agreed to be an endorser for a 70m-euro Galenika bank loan. However, it was not enough to improve the country’s pharmaceutical market.
“The pharmaceutical market in Serbia is chaotic and the state needs to regulate it. If domestic medicines are missing, if domestic pharmacetucial companies don’t work, then why don’t they import these medicines? The main problem is financing. Someone should control where the money goes and who manipulates it,” Predrag Petrovic of the Pharmaceutical Chamber told SETimes.
Annually, the Serbian health system receives more than 2 billion euros, out of which 58m euros is spent on health institutions, such as clinics and hospitals; and another 290m on prescribed medicines and technical aids.
Only last year, health institutions in Serbia dispensed 55 million prescriptions, for 80 million of medicine boxes. This cost the Institute 251m euros.