Latin America struggles with shortages of vital medications

Americas Desk, Nov 19 (EFE).- Supply-chain problems and inflation have driven up the cost of cancer drugs in Argentina by more than 54 percent and even bigger increases in Panama spurred mass protests, while in Mexico, some medications are increasingly hard to come by at any price.

Shortages, which have grown more acute this year, “intensify inequalities among countries,” Argentina attorney Daniel Figueredo de Perez, a specialist in health law, said in an interview with EFE.

Panama has the highest drug prices in Latin America because pharmacies buy from a distributor, rather than directly from manufacturers, the president of the National Union of Pharmacy Owners, Orlando Perez, told EFE.

Responding to the largest demonstrations seen in the country in decades, the Panamanian government rolled back the retail prices of 170 medications by 30 percent.

The price measure was accompanied by a decree opening the market to competition with the aim of ending “oligopolies” and reducing inefficiencies in distribution.

In Mexico, the supply squeeze has reached the point that in the first three months of 2022, the public health care plan rejected three times as many prescriptions as during the whole of 2019, according to figures compiled by Cero Desabasto (Zero Shortage), a coalition of more than 30 NGOs.

Figueredo de Perez pointed out that the problem extends to wealthy nations such as the United States, where the widely used antibiotic amoxicillin is in short supply.

Medication prices in Argentina soared by 61.7 percent in the first nine months of this year.

And though some 5 million retirees get many prescription drugs free of charge, the plan does not cover everything, Dr. Eugenio Semino, the Buenos Aires municipal ombud for the elderly, pointed out.

“Today the older adult, especially if he or she is alone or doesn’t have any other kind of support, does not consume medication according to the prescription, but according to how far the money goes,” he said.

The Argentine Health Union said in a recent report that when adjusted for income, drug prices in Argentina are higher than in the US.

For instance, an Argentine earning the median income pays nearly 250 percent more for an aspirin than his or her counterpart in the US.

Colombia’s health ministry issued an alert at the end of October about low stocks of 30 medications, including amoxicillin, allergy remedy loratidine, paracetamol and losartan, a drug used to treat hypertension.

Clara Ines Rodriguez, executive director of the Colombian Pharmaceutical Industry Association, told EFE that the rise in the value of the dollar is hurting drugmakers in the Andean nation because suppliers of raw materials have raised prices by up to 40 percent.

And because of price controls that have been in place since 2013, manufacturers are unable to recoup those higher costs, she said.

The situation demonstrates the necessity that “the fabrication of raw materials of something as vital as medicine not be concentrated in the Global North,” Figueredo de Perez said. EFE szg/dr

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