Unlicensed Pharmaceutical Trade Thrives In Baghdad

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Mohammed Raheem

Yalla – Baghdad

Shops selling pharmaceutical drugs, injections and wound dressings have flourished throughout Baghdad. Despite failing to meet basic health criteria, the shops attract large numbers of customers due to low prices compared to pharmacies and medical practices.

The shop owners are medical professionals employed by the Ministry of Health. Their low prices have led to some being accused of stealing drugs from the medical institutions at which they work.

“Stealing medicines from our regional health clinics happens when a doctor and a pharmacist have an agreement. The doctor prescribes four types of medication but the pharmacist issues only two. Sometimes it is half of the prescribed dose without the patient knowing,” said Um Qaesar, who lives in the Sha’ab neighbourhood of Baghdad. “By the end of their shift, they have collected a sizeable amount of medicines to sell at private clinics or pharmacies.”

Medical assistant Ala’a al-Kaabi (not his real name), who works at a health clinic in Baghdad and runs a private health clinic in his house in the evenings, said: “Health institution medical professionals are not able to steal medicines at all due to the standard procedures related to giving out medicines.

“Stealing medicines is carried out through drug stores and procurement committees in the government’s health offices, as they ask the owners of the drug stores to include extra amounts, using the excuse of damage and shortcomings in previous orders.

“Sometimes they steal from large boxes. For example, if a box contains 1,000 bandages, they steal 100 then issue the box to the pharmacist as a complete box. If the pharmacist finds out and demands the full quantity, they claim they had shortfalls and the issue has to be resolved or they say they can’t provide the allotted quantity.

“This exposes the pharmacist to insults from patients who don’t receive required medicines, which is often the case at the medical institutions in Baghdad.”

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The medical assistant went on. “A doctor prescribing a number of medicines and a pharmacist issuing half of the dose is practiced to address the reduced quantities supplied to them.

“The theft of medicines can’t be controlled, because the medicine isn’t stamped to show that it is imported only for the use of the Ministry of Health.

“The ministry, the pharmacies and the unlicensed clinics, all buy from the same drug stores. Medical offices that are prevalent and unmonitored, present in the industrial and residential areas of Baghdad.

“The low prices for treatment at the shops offering injections and wound bandaging, is what attracts people to the shops. They treat Influenza with an injection that costs 20,000 dinars, which would cost 50000 dinars in appointment and medication fees at a doctor’s surgery. Subsequently these unlicensed clinics open in the slums and the poorer neighbourhoods.”

“Theft of medicines at government medical institutions and their sale by unlicensed clinics is very rare. Once stolen medicines are found, they are confiscated, the clinic owners are investigated and proper action is taken against them. If the clinics are unlicensed, they are closed down permanently,” director of the inspection department at the Ministry of Health, Satar Jaafar told Yalla in a statement.

Deputy Sooham al-Mousawi, member of the Committee of Health and Environment said to Yalla, “From 2003 until now, at the Ministry of Health, there has been huge financial and administrative corruption, and they haven’t been resolved.

“There are mafias operating inside the ministry and the general hospitals, due the lack of oversight.

“This has resulted in the spread of corruption and its exacerbation in medical institutions.

“Reducing the budget at the Ministry of Health has resulted in a medicines shortage which will lead to more operations to smuggle medicines and medical equipment out of the governmental institutions to the black market. There will be more operations to steal medicines from patients, hence there should be a priority for the sector to create oversight and hold offenders accountable.”

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