Social media campaign highlights medication shortages in Egypt

Abdel Rahman Salah’s mother has a heart condition. Using the hashtag, “Medicine is a right,” he highlighted a shortage of medication needed for her treatment on social media.

“We haven’t been able to find Cordarone [an antiarrhythmic drug] for a while,” he tweeted.

The hashtag #الدواء_حق (medicine is a right) trended on social media after it was launched by journalist Mohamed al-Garhey, chief editor of Manshet on ONtv Saturday. The online campaign sheds light on the shortage and lack of access to medicine, with users listing the names of the medication they say is in short supply.  

Others underlined the importance of access to medicine, especially for serious conditions.

“Most people cannot afford expensive medication for chronic diseases, some people can forgo eating just to save up for it and they still cannot find it,” one user tweeted.

In a statement on Sunday, the Pharmacists Syndicate announced its support for the campaign, calling on the Ministry of Health to adopt a number of initiatives and be proactive in implementing them.

The syndicate said it supports ideas from civil society, journalists and other figures, adding that access to medicine is a national security issue and is a right guaranteed by the constitution.

The issue was brought to Garhey’s attention when he himself went on a wild goose chase looking for a remedy for his cold one day at 5.30 am.

“It’s medicine that costs LE2.5 and you can’t even find that,” he told Mada Masr.  

Being the driving force behind a charity hospital in Sharqiya, Garhey is in contact with doctors and patients who have also raised the issue of access to medication.

When several friends asked him to find certain medicines for them to no avail, he was prompted to launch the social media campaign.

“As I followed the cases, I realized it isn’t only non-essential medicines, like for a cold or flu, or saline solution … it is several medications for critical cases too,” he said. No one really knows why there is this shortage. “This raises a million question marks.” 

Garhey explained the crisis also involves a lack of alternatives to the medication that is absent, as well as the trading of medication on the black market.

The most common reasons given for the shortage are the rising cost of medication and the exchange rate, he asserted. “But it’s not the patient’s fault that there is a problem with the dollar or with customs,” he added.

The crisis involves three parties, according to Garhey — the Ministry of Health, pharmaceutical companies and importers and the Pharmacists Syndicate.

“However, these parties never sit at one table to figure it out,” he asserted, adding that there needs to be immediate intervention. Although he also suspects that neither pharmaceutical companies nor the Ministry of Health will act unless there is direct intervention from the presidency.

Garhey praises the campaign for raising awareness on the issue and attracting the attention of the media. He says the issue has surfaced before from time to time, but “cannot wait any longer.”

Mohamed al-Baradei, former vice president for foreign affairs, also participated in the campaign, quoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.”

Baradei posted another tweet, asserting, “What we spend on health care reflects a stark imbalance in priorities. The right to health is part of the right to life.”

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