Helping to plug the medicine gap in Syria

Publié: 1 novembre 2013 16:00 CET

By Vivian Tou’meh, Syrian Arab Red Crescent

Paying for medicines and medical treatment has become one of the most difficult issues that Syrians face since the crisis began. The local market has been severely affected and many medicines have become prohibitively expensive as most of the pharmaceutical factories have been either destroyed or shut down.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is trying to ease the situation, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Small pharmacies have been added to many of the shelters through the Red Crescent’s branches and sub-branches in order to assist people directly.

Inside the warehouse at the Red Crescent’s Rural Damascus branch centre pharmacy, volunteers are unpacking the 150 parcels of different medicines from the IFRC. The medicines are used by the Rural Damascus polyclinic, health point, mobile health units and health teams.

The polyclinic opened in 2008 and, at that time, mainly served refugees from Iraq. Times have changed and most of the patients are people who have been internally displaced as a result of the ongoing crisis in Syria.

“We thank everybody for their support and for the hand extended to help people in distress in Syria. Nevertheless, the needs are tremendously high. The number of displaced people inside Syria has now reached more than 5.5 million people,” says Dr Abdul Rahman Attar, President of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The growing number of displaced people is reflected in the number of people attending the Red Crescent clinics and pharmacies. “We used to have 100 to 150 patients every day. Now it’s three to four times that with around 300 to 400 patients each day,” says Dr Rami Hassan, a pharmacist at the Rural Damascus branch.

One of the main obstacles the pharmacy faces is meeting patients’ needs: “There is a need for medicines for chronic illnesses and some expensive products, such as certain blood thinners, but also for common medicines such as aspirin.”

People also respond differently to different medicines. For example, some diabetic patients benefit from insulin whereas others may need something different.

“What can I do with a patient who needs a medicine that is not available?” asks Dr Sumaid from the clinic of internal medicine. “For example, some asthma medicines are so expensive that we are not able to provide our patients with them at all. We need medicines with a wide spectrum and in greater quantities.”

Unfortunately, it’s not always the medicine itself that causes a problem. “I come to this centre to get my insulin, but the problem is that I have big difficulties to find the money for the syringes,” says Abu Salah, who suffers from diabetes.

Dr Attar explains this is a common issue: “Sometimes we are receiving part of the medicines required and the other parts are not supplied. The appeal for medications should be double or triple to cover the extreme needs during the current situation. Medicines have been in very short supply and people are not able to pay for them,” he adds.

According to Dr Rami, “Prices have risen twice during the crisis. First, with a 10 to 50 per cent increase, and the second time with a 25 to 50 per cent rise. Aspirin cost 50 Syrian pounds before. Now, it costs 100 Syrian pounds.”

The IFRC is supporting the Rural Damascus branch clinic with 600 categories of medicines; the other 350 drugs are bought by the pharmacy at the local market. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent's health activities, including the supply of medicines, are supported by the IFRC and are implemented with contributions from the Canadian Red Cross and the Canadian government, Swedish Red Cross, ECHO, USAID/OFDA.

The IFRC has an active appeal to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and a separate appeal to support people from Syria who have fled to neighbouring countries.