TUNIS, Tunisia — A drug crisis has hit Tunisia in recent weeks, exacerbated by a strike by medicine distributors, after many international pharmaceutical companies shut down their offices in the North African country.
“I can barely find any of my medicines, all of which I cannot dispense with since they control my blood disease and other illnesses I have,” said Mariam al-Jubari, 68, from Ben Arous governorate in the northeast.
She told Al-Monitor, “The sole victims are the Tunisian citizens. The government is unable to take action and solve the problem of medicines, as well as other problems that suffocate us on a daily basis.”
On Dec. 3, medicine distributors in Tunisia announced a general strike, arguing that the authorities did not reduce tax burdens on their institutions, which are facing severe financial crises.
Nawfal al-Amiri, head of the Tunisian Pharmacists' Syndicate, told Al-Monitor, “The [drug] crisis will worsen in the coming days because the country is facing near bankruptcy. The authorities are unable to finance the pharmaceutical sector.”
He added, “There is also no government program to reform the pharmaceutical sector, while many international pharmaceutical companies are planning to leave the country.”
Tunisian pharmacies complain of a shortage of medicines for chronic diseases such as diabetes and blood pressure, which raised fears of the crisis worsening even more.
“About 300 essential medicines can no longer be found in Tunisian pharmacies,” Amiri said.
Tunisia has been experiencing a severe economic crisis amid political turmoil due to the power struggle between President Kais Saied and the opposition forces over Saied’s controversial measures, including dissolving the parliament and government.
On Oct. 15, Tunisia reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $1.9 billion financing package. However, it remains unclear whether this loan will prompt a quick solution to the drug crisis that is sparking growing discontent in the street a few days ahead of the parliamentary elections.
In light of the drug crisis, Saied stressed during a visit to a pharmaceutical company Dec. 6, “Tunisia does not lack anything to meet its needs for medicines in anticipation of all emergency cases.”
He also called for unifying efforts to provide a strategic stock of medicines.
Rafik Boujdaria, head of the coronavirus clinic at Abderrahman Mami Hospital in Aryanah, northwest of Tunis, told Al-Monitor that the solution to the drug crisis lies in pumping government funds into the Central Pharmacy of Tunisia in charge of supplying private pharmacies and hospitals with medicines, which is facing a financial crisis as it is unable to cover its insurance dues.
Boujdaria said, “In 2018, the previous Tunisian government headed by Youssef Chahed was forced to pump money into the Central Pharmacy. This is the only solution today as well to overcome this crisis.”