By Elias Hazou
Diabetics yesterday mounted a demonstration outside parliament against what they claim are extortionate prices of essential medical equipment, but all they got from politicians were vague promises to look into it.
The group says most diabetics cannot afford the new prices of blood-sugar meters and test strips.
Every three years the government invites tenders for test strips. Under the contract concluded with the government, the selected bidder is also obliged to import the blood-sugar meters as well, as the two components must be compatible. However, the devices per se are not part of the tender.
Under the last tender, awarded two months ago, the supplier – a Limassol-based merchant – is charging €29.75 per meter. That’s a substantial increase from before, when the devices went for €25.
But the diabetics’ main gripe has to do with the price of the disposable strips, which they’re calling a rip-off. Sold in packets of 50, the strips are now going for €22, compared to €17 previously.
Diabetics procure the strips for €22 from authorised resellers (essentially their association), but they cost €42 in pharmacies.
The average type-1 diabetic needs to tests his or her blood sugar three to five times a day. A 50-strip pack will last 10 days at most, if that.
Whereas people can obtain strips from state hospitals for a token price, due to quotas on the quantities dispensed most diabetics run out quickly and have to buy the rest in the private sector.
Theodosis Isaac, head of the Larnaca branch of the diabetics association, told the Mail that perhaps as many as 70 per cent of registered diabetics are not entitled to the low-price strips at state hospitals.
And diabetics were infuriated on discovering that the merchant is selling the strips to the government (state hospitals) for just €1.90 – compared to €22 to the private sector.
The tender for the test strips goes to the lowest bidder. Some of the more cynical folks protesting yesterday suspect a stitch-up between authorities and suppliers. The latter can get away with marking up their prices because they’ve cornered the market.
“Once the merchant has got the tender, he’ll make up for the low price that he sells to the government by marking up the price sold to the private sector. It’s just exploitation,” said Miranda Theodorou, a lifelong diabetic.
A cursory research on the Internet also shows that blood-sugar meters go for anywhere from €15 to €20.
What’s more, after contacting the device’s manufacturer in Taiwan, association members have discovered that the wholesale price tag is just $8 (about €6).
The Cypriot merchant is the exclusive importer of the blood-sugar meter; and the test strips only work with this specific brand and type of device.
The Pancyprian Diabetic Association have had a standing arrangement with the designated supplier of the test strips, from whom they’d procure the devices and distribute them to their members.
According to the association’s Theodosis Isaac, they’ve tried to get the current merchant to water his wine and lower his prices, but to no avail.
“He even threatened to stop supplying our association by breaking off and setting up his own so-called association for diabetics.”
Following the picket demo, representatives of the association met with House Speaker Yiannakis Omirou, who pledged to find a solution soon.