Iranians stand in line outside a drugstore

Medicine Shortages, Rising Prices In Coming Months, Iran Lawmaker Says

Saturday, 04/01/2023

Medicine shortages and rising prices have already been grave in Iran but now officials say the situation will aggravate in the coming months.

Masoud Pezeshkian, the representative of Tabriz at the parliament and a member of the medical and healthcare committee, said Saturday that the drug manufacturers in the country cannot import the raw materials to produce medicines due to the elimination of the government’s subsidies.

Parliament approved the government’s decision to scrap an annual $9-14 billion subsidy for essential food and medicines in March 2022, despite warnings of more inflation and hardship. The idea to eliminate the subsidy emerged after hardliner president Ebrahim Raisi assumed office earlier in the year in August, counting on support from conservatives and ultra-conservatives in control of the parliament.

“Medicines will become more expensive this year, and because medicine manufacturers do not have the necessary funds to import the raw material for drug production, they may not be able to produce as much medicine as the population needs, so we will also face a shortage of medicine,” Pezeshkian said.

Lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian

Criticizing the administration for not providing the necessary funds to import medicine, he added that the inflation was so high in the previous Iranian year that people could not afford to buy medicines anymore. The Central Bank of Iran announced last week that the annual inflation rate stands at 46.5 percent, among the highest in Iran in more than 30 years. Iran’s rial fell to more than 600,000 in late February from 300,000 in late August. Although the national currency bounced back to about 540,000 it is still down about 50 percent compared to six months ago. 

His remarks echoed earlier statements by officials such as lawmaker Hosseinali Shahriari, who warned in March that "the financial resources foreseen in the budget bill for the next Iranian (which started March 21) year are not sufficient at all... we will face problems regarding medicines and medical equipment.”

Taghi Naghdali, a member of the parliament's judicial and legal committee, said in September that without allocation of cheap foreign currency to pharmaceutical imports the government's Medicine Assistance Plan is bound to fail. Health Minister Bahram Eynollahi, who always tries to downplay the severity of the situation, had called the plan “a miracle” in its early days but announced in January that the government faces a deficit of about 360 trillion rials (about $7 billion in today’s exchange rate) for supplying the needed medicines. Eynollahi also claimed that drugstores are full of medicines and only a few items are not available.

Mohammad Reza Afkhami, Secretary of Khorasan Razavi Pharmacists Association, warned last year that in addition to medications for special illnesses, some common medications like cold pills, acetaminophen, amoxicillin, distilled water, and syringes are scarce due to the government mismanagement. He added that many of the pharmacies are going bankrupt due to economic problems, noting that pharmacies are not separate from other guilds and are not in a good economic situation.

A pharmacy in Iran's capital Tehran

Homayoun Najafabadi, another member of the parliament's health committee, also said last year that the shortage and high prices of medicines are not limited to certain drugs anymore, and very common medications are also scarce and expensive. The deputy head of the Iranian Pharmaceutical Importers Association, Mojtaba Bourbour, said in January 2022 that the government’s claim of self-sufficiency in production of raw materials for medicine and pharmaceutical products is not true. “About 80 to 90 percent of the needed raw materials are imported from China and India," he said, adding that some medicines are imported from China but sold as made in Iran. 

In the previous Iranian year, the medicine crisis intensified as people suffered from multifold price increases while many medicine items were not available in the market at all, pushing people to the black market fed with smuggled medicines.

The Islamic Republic has been claiming that United States sanctions prevent procurement of medicines, while Washington insists that humanitarian aid is exempt from sanctions and in fact, food, health and humanitarian products are not sanctioned. Iran has been importing more than $1.5 billion of medicines a year. Iran imports around 100 million euros of medicines a month just from Europe and also large quantities from China and India.

Considering the incessant bemoaning by the Islamic Republic’s officials about the effect of US sanctions on shortages of medicine in the country, there are speculations that the government is pleased with the psychological effects of the shortages on foreign audiences, wearing down a people already fatigued by months of revolutionary fervor.

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