Medical War Trade in Yemen

Corona reveals distortions in drug markets
Mohammed Rajih
July 21, 2020

Medical War Trade in Yemen

Corona reveals distortions in drug markets
Mohammed Rajih
July 21, 2020

At the height of the outbreak of the Corona virus in Yemen, Yemenis fell between the jaws of pincers; The spread of the virus on the one hand and the gradual disappearance of some types of medicine on the other hand, to the extent that people are unable to obtain a “Pendulum pill” or a “Solpadine” (effervescent) tablet, and similarly, the lack of “Vitamin C” from the market. Here the questions began: What is happening in the Yemeni drug markets to make the simplest types of drugs that no one expected to disappear?

Going back a little to the last three years of the war, when the results of drug market disruptions over the recent years began to appear. As these results emerged, according to what was observed by “Khuyut” in this investigation, in multiple types and forms that coincided with the spread of the Corona virus. During the recent three years, the medicine market in Yemen clearly appeared as a war trade, and the humanitarian crises accompanying the war were nothing but a fig leaf that continued to cover the faults of this distorted market.

"Khuyut" monitored these markets and their situation before the war, and found how corruption in medicine markets in Yemen was reflected in the spread of smuggled and counterfeit medicines, which made up 60% of the volume of medicines offered in the local market.

Khuyut obtained official data issued by the Central Organization for Control and Accountability in January 2020, which revealed the spread of 50 types of smuggled and counterfeit medicines circulated in the local Yemeni market, in addition to 200 types of counterfeit medicines entering Yemen illegally. And about 175 species of smuggled known source.

 The supervisory authority at that time held the Supreme Authority for Medicines and Medical Supplies responsible for not conducting the required tests and analyzes related to radioactive drugs, vaccines, blood derivatives and cosmetics with medical effect, in addition to its failure to complete the draft specifications and technical cards for internationally controlled narcotics and psychotropic substances.

The report also touched on the lack of coordination and cooperation between the Supreme Authority for Medicines and Medical Supplies and relevant authorities, such as customs, the competent departments of the Ministry of Health and the security authorities, in the process of controlling and combating smuggled and counterfeit medicines.

The expert in the pharmaceutical market Hamdi Al-Qubaisi explained to "Khuyut" that the smuggling process that prevailed before the war and took place through the main border crossings, was reflected in the spread of counterfeit and fake medicines.  He provides an example of "Vitamin C", after being a well-known pharmaceutical product of the Hayel Saeed Anam Group of companies, there was the Egyptian type of "vitamin C", another Syrian type, a French type, and there the Swiss, the German, and others, due to smuggling and forgery. Then the war came and narrowed the noose on this scourge with the closure of the boarder outlets, and a new brand appeared in the market that was able to penetrate the wall of this siege, and started monopolizing pharmaceutical products that they smuggled into the market.

bloated bill

Over the past years, Yemen has suffered from an inflated bill for importing medicines, which amounted to about 95 billion riyals annually, of which the local industry represents 20%, a large amount incurred by the state treasury for the benefit of rogue traders, smugglers and counterfeiters who are teeming with medicine markets in Yemen. While local products cover about 12% of the pharmaceutical market needs, the private sector produces 200 types of medicines in addition to the production of life-saving medicines related to chronic diseases.

"Khuyut" tracked drug markets in Yemen, and monitored some drug items, and reviewed them through dealers and pharmacists in more than one Yemeni governorate, and discovered the disappearance of about 240 items, most of which are well-known brands, 50% of which were subject to "commercial cloning".

In this context, a report issued in February 2020, by the Supreme Authority for Medicines and Medical Supplies in Sana’a, which “Khuyut” reviewed, attributed the crisis in the Yemeni drug market to the blockade imposed by the “Arab Coalition” led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and one of the most important aspects of this siege is the closure of Sana'a airport, which caused the disappearance of a large number of life-saving medicines, including 120 types of medicines for chronic diseases such as cancer.

Moreover, the Supreme Authority for Medicines and Medical Supplies revealed that 362 commercial items had run out from the market and from the stores of the Ministry of Public Health and Population of the Sana’a government and the commercial market, and stressed that most of these items need very special conditions for transportation, such as cooling and speed of delivery, which is only possible through Sana’a Airport, including Blood derivatives medicines, hormonal and immunological drugs, serums, blood clots, resuscitation and anesthesia drugs, and some laboratory and diagnostic solutions. 

Market needs

In April 2020, a private sector institutions and government sectors joint meeting was held in Sana’a concluded with the formation of special emergency committees to combat the Corona virus. The committee consisted of representatives of these institutions, including; the General Union of Pharmaceutical Producers, the Yemeni Drug Bank and the Union of Drug Importers. The committee has developed a plan and a joint work mechanism that includes needs that can be provided to combat this virus, and ways of cooperation with the competent official authorities to prevent its spread in Yemen.

However, with the spread of the virus reaching its climax, some pharmaceutical products had disappeared from the market, such as "vitamin C", whose price reached four thousand riyals, after it was 1200 before the Covid19 crisis. Also, "Aspirin C" tablets, whose price increased to from 800 YRs to 3000 riyals and some types of sedatives such as pendulum and "Solpadine" effervescent tablets, which were double priced while the original price do not exceed 50 riyals.

Almost all relevant facilities in Yemen were unable to confront the people’s panic amid the spread of the Corona virus and provide the basic medicines they need, until some drug shipments were supplied by the international organizations did not really cover the markets needs despite the relative decline of the Corona virus. As a result, these medicines were in limited quantities in some pharmacies and drug stores so they were sold at high prices, and its circulation was as if the “selling contraband” either through personal connections, or by severely rationing the selling so that a “pill” or “packet” for the consumer who can persuade the pharmacist to sell it.

The Executive Director of the Pharmaceutical Producers Union, Abdul Hakim Shawkat, told "Khuyut" that there have been restrictions imposed on Yemeni airports and sea ports for five years because of the war have affected various commercial and economic sectors in Yemen as well as the supplement of an adequate stock of food and medicine, and impeding many of the industrial components and production inputs that they need. Consequently, the Yemeni pharmaceutical companies faced great difficulty, especially with the spread of the Corona virus, in meeting the market needs of some pharmaceutical brands that have witnessed a disappearance or a significant decrease in the local market.

Further, Shawkat added that there is a huge dumping of corrupt, smuggled and counterfeit medicines in the Yemeni markets, and there is a huge exploitation of the people's need in Yemen. In this context, Shawkat urged the relevant security, commercial and responsible authorities to monitor and put an end for these practices and curb this and phenomena."

According to the director of the Federation of Pharmaceutical Producers, the current situation constituted an appropriate opportunity for the growth of the Yemeni pharmaceutical industries, and to play an active role in covering the needs of the Yemeni markets of some essential pharmaceutical items, as the local industry covers only 35% of the needs of the Yemeni markets. On the other hand, the significant upsurge in the prices of imported medicines to unreasonable levels is mainly attributed to the monopoly of some medical supplier that prevails in the market especially during crisis.

Bridging the Gap

In a meeting held by the authority with the Union of Drug Importers on June 12, 2020, the authority obligated importers to raise the import ceilings and compensate for the lost, while there were efforts, according to limited resources, to operate the solutions line in the “Yedko” factory to cover the deficit it has been experiencing for nearly two years in the production of one of the most important type of "pendulum" that it produced was "tin paramol", which was greatly demanded by consumers in Yemen due to its cheap price and effectiveness. Thus, in addition to urging other local private sector factories to produce "vitamin C", but they did not respond or produced such brand. As a result, people resorted to natural sources of vitamin C as Natural citrus fruits which were the option that people in Yemen have resorted to as part of their preventive measures against the Corona virus.

Furthermore, there was an agreement stating the launching of urgent and sufficient imports of the necessary pharmaceutical items needed by the Yemeni market, and the formation of a sufficient drug stock for the rest of the current year, within the framework of importing the registered items, as well as the exceptional import approvals were granted for important basic items to cover the urgent public need for some items required in the markets.

On the other hand, there was grumbling among pharmaceutical companies and importers about the restrictions that are being exercised against them by the official authorities, medical institutions, medical supplies, and health authorities in various major regions and governorates. Additionally, the medical stakeholders were very annoyed by the many difficulties they faced during the recent crisis and since the beginning of the war in Yemen, including the delay of the shipments in customs ports and routine procedures that cause financial losses and damages of their medical products.

In addition to the above, there are obstacles related to granting approvals to import some medical registered items and approved companies, especially those that have international certificates, as well as the lack of necessary exemptions and facilities for these types of medicines, medical supplies and vitamins that fall within the treatment and prevention protocol of Covid19, and strengthening immunity to confront the virus.

But despite this, the Union of Drug Importers confirms, according to a statement by one of its leaders, to "Khuyut", that there is a sufficient stock of all medicines and medical supplies in place to confront the Corona virus, including masks and vitamins of all kinds.

Medicines rank sixth for the 30 most important commodities imported into the Yemeni market, and the Yemeni private sector imports the quantities that the market needs. According to foreign trade data issued by the Central Statistics Organization obtained by Khuyut, the value of medicine imports declined from 95 billion riyals in 2014 to 46 billion and 400 million riyals in 2015. However, in 2016 it reached about 73 billion and 330 million Yemeni riyals.

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