BEIRUT: A source close to the Health Ministry confirmed that the price of a vital cancer medication in Lebanon is approximately twice what it is abroad, but defended the markup on economic grounds.
“Of course the country should profit,” said Mohammad Yassin, an adviser to caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, commenting on a report that first appeared in As-Safir newspaper.
“The local price of the medicine depends on the initial price set by the company, including import taxes and shipping costs,” he added. “Naturally, the price will go up.”
The drug in question, Nexavar, is used in the treatment of thyroid and other cancers and is manufactured in Germany by Bayer. The local price, which was confirmed by local pharmacists, is $3,735 for a pack of 60 tablets. According to As-Safir, the same pack would sell for $1,860 in the United States. In most cases, a thyroid cancer patient would need two packets a month, totaling $7,470.
The price of medication in Lebanon is determined by the Health Ministry in coordination with the manufacturer, the ministry’s general director, Fouad Fleifil, confirmed.
But a lawyer for Consumers Lebanon said even taking into account the cost of shipping, taxes and profits for distributors and pharmacists, the profit margin was far too high to be ethical.
“We do not go public with a topic unless we have done all the investigation necessary about this issue and spoken to the authorities,” Mohammad Darwish said.
“We have already sent a letter to the company demanding some answers, but we received a vague response,” he said, adding that the advocacy group was preparing to file a lawsuit against the company.
Multiple pharmacies in Beirut said the medication was expensive and rarely kept in stock, but could be ordered by customer request.
“It is too expensive to always be available,” said Mohammad Abbas, a pharmacist at Al-Sahel Pharmacy. “The patient must pay a deposit, then we request it from the distributor.”
According to the Health Ministry’s website, the only company licensed to import the medicine is Droguerie R. Pharaon & Fils S.A.L
Armand Phares, president of the Lebanese Pharmaceuticals Importers Association, is also Droguerie R. Pharaon & Fils' agent.
“We do not interfere personally with price determination,” he said.
He confirmed that the price was set by the ministry in accordance with Lebanese law.
Darwish admitted that, while it was natural for the price in Lebanon to be slightly higher than it would be abroad, such a gap was unacceptable.
“This medicine can cure cancer and is capable of saving hundreds of lives. That should be given priority.”