THE Cyprus Association of Pharmaceutical Companies (CAPC) issued an announcement on Tuesday warning people not to buy medicines in the north as they could be harming themselves. People should ask themselves why prices are lower and consider the quality of the drugs sold there, the announcement said. The implication is that like fake designer handbags, these might not be the real thing.
It also took a swipe at general standards in the north, saying nobody knows whether drugs were kept in the right conditions and whether pharmacists were properly trained. Pharmacies there had not been checked by the EU, the announcement said, so it was not possible to know whether European standards were adhered to. Indirectly conceding that people were buying their medicine in the north because of the lower prices, the CAPC said that the problem would be solved by the introduction of the national health system (Gesy) which would cover the cost of drugs for all patients.
What should people do until that day comes? It could take several years before Gesy is up and running and the state picks up the tab for everyone’s drugs. Medicine prices in the north are much lower and much more attractive, especially to people who have a sizeable monthly drug bill. A 50 or 60 per cent saving on a €100 monthly bill is significant. Many people often buy a couple of months of drug supplies when they visit Greece where prices are also much cheaper than in Cyprus.
The CAPC’s objective should not be to frighten people about buying drugs in the north, but to ensure that prices in the Republic are more competitive. Cyprus has one major disadvantage in that the quantities of drugs it purchases are too small to secure the type of discounts given by manufacturers to bigger markets. But the other factor contributing to the extremely high prices is the profit margin of 30 per cent – stipulated by law – on every drug sold by chemists. Add to this the 10 to 15 per cent margin of the importer/distributor and we are talking of a mark-up of some 45 per cent on all prices.
These margins could be halved and drug prices would automatically fall by about 20 per cent. This is the way to stop people from going north to buy medicine, not by scare stories claiming drugs were not stored in the right conditions and that chemists were not properly trained.
Prices matter to people and now there is competition across the Green Line, the exorbitant profit margins guaranteed to pharmacies by law cannot be justified. People will carry on buying their medicine in the north if nothing is done to reduce prices significantly on this side.