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Bucharest
November 12, 2019
EDITORIAL

The crisis of medicines

The Romanian medical system holds a sad record, as it generates terrible news on a daily basis. Recently, we learned that the supply of medicines for a disease that produces the paralysis of arms has ended. Those who have enough money may order the cure abroad, but most Romanians cannot afford it, so they are condemned to becoming physically impaired. And there are more situations like this one. Of late, patients painfully feel the absence of compensated treatments for many severe illnesses like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other ailments widely spread in Romania. The reason for this collapse is the actualisation of an older government regulation that instates a “profit tax” in the pharmaceutical sector. The tax is enforced by several countries of the EU and the IMF urged us to enforce it, as a condition for the international loans. The tax had been instated by government decision in the past, but it was not enforced until now.

Today, when authorities decided to make it effective, pharmaceutical companies entered some form of “strike,” also profiting from the fact that Romanian medicines producers were almost completely privatised.These chaotic acts of privatisation started the tragedy. Over the last years, authorities tripled the budget allotted to medicines, but this did not prevent the crisis in this sector. Some say that physicians prescribe the most expensive drugs to their patients, instead of generic ones, while others blame the lack on authorities’ tendency of devising their budgets only based on the cheapest medicines. Fact is that Romania imports over 75 pc of the total quantities of medicines needed by its population – another consequence of chaotic privatisation. The premises of former medical companies have been turned into stores, night clubs etc, while the larger plots of land now host big buildings put on sale by real estate entrepreneurs. All these beneficiaries of the chaotic privatisation – the importers and providers of medicines, as well as the owners of real estate properties – often accuse the Romanian state of obstructing the EU practices and infringing the principles of market economy.  But when the Romanian state is demanded to observe the EU policy of instating the profit tax in the pharmaceutical industry, the same “protesters” oppose and go on “strike.”Caught in the crossfire between authorities and the “pro-Europeans” trying hard to increase their profits, the Romanian medical system struggles to stay alive. Romania continues to have the shortest life expectancy in the EU, along with a high incidence of lung, kidney and cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, HIV and, of late, even Alzheimer. Politicians – belonging to both power and opposition – blame each other for the chronic under-financing of the health system. For many years, the annual share of the GDP allotted to Health oscillated around 2 pc, and of late it was doubled to some 4 pc, but this did not produce the expected effects. Almost all our politicians excuse themselves and accuse their opponents of providing money based on the political colour of counties and managers, thus ignoring the constitutional imperative of equal access to health for all citizens.In the health sector, discrimination thus became commonplace and helps pharmaceutical importers to make huge profits. Today, Romania imports large quantities of medicines, which are sold at higher prices than in Europe, if we consider the purchasing power of its population.A Greek retiree recently complained that crisis has cut his pension from EUR 1,600 to EUR 1,200 a month. In Romania, the average pension is around EUR 250-270, and a young physician earns EUR 200 a month. Romanian authorities seem to ignore the fact that medicines are not just merchandise, as they represent the very survival of many people – the right to life is the foremost fundamental right of any human being. Then, why the discrimination in the medical sector?Some answers to this question evoke the devaluation of the RON. But the value of the Romanian currency oscillates, like that of any other currency, between ups and downs – an oscillation that cannot be found in the price of medicines, which stays high even when the RON goes up. Heated debates on this issue – also in Parliament – brought no salutary solution. The only positive aspect can be found in unveiling some shady schemes. An example is the fact that the massive import of medicines in Romania is influenced less by the therapeutic value and more by the commission fees paid by foreign exporters to Romanian importers. The sums involved are so high that some historians even say that Romania was admitted to the EU only after its national production of medicines collapsed, turning it into a huge and profitable market for the multinationals of the pharma sector, which do what they please here.In the Romanian health system, discrimination became commonplace. It was boosted by a decision made by the former Emil Boc cabinet to close 67 hospitals that had been plagued by the very discrimination in terms of financing enacted by the same Boc government. The citizens reacted with strong protests, which convinced the acting minister of health to reopen many of the closed hospitals, now transformed into policlinics and health centers. This is a daring – though very hard to enact – initiative that comes to somehow alleviate the disarray existing in the Romanian medical system.

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