Health Minister Wael Abou Faour insisted this week that the unified prescription form is expected to create a qualitative change. His campaign for the generic drugs states that your doctor’s prescription can be switched to an alternative and cheaper drug if the patient can’t afford expensive medicine.
That’s where the problem lies.
Pharmaceutical companies, doctors and pharmacies in Lebanon form a close business circle on the exclusivity of drugs. Companies import/create a drug and register it as a new product, then arrange with doctors to sell it, while informing the pharmacies that it doesn’t have a generic drug (alternative to it).
In fact pharmacies can hold up to 7 different brands of the same drug but prefer to sell the one that suits their prior arrangements, so how much do you know about your pharmacy?
Is it a pharmacy or drugstore?
The term pharmacy is the art and science of preparing and dispensing drugs and medicines. Each pharmacist used to have a backroom where he would prepare mixtures, creams and other natural or chemical-based drugs. In Lebanon, the backroom is used as storage or as a napping place for employees.
While a drugstore is a retail shop where medicine and other articles are sold like beauty creams, baby food, chocolate, toys, deodorant, gel, shampoo and lately Zein Atat products. That’s exactly what all pharmacies should be labeled in Lebanon.
Pharmacies always look for the extra revenue using different schemes such as:
- They travel abroad to countries like Romania, France and Bulgaria to purchase drugs that are five times cheaper, and then sell it in Lebanon at the local market price. Sometimes, Lebanese customs intercept a personal bag full of medicine but no arrest can be made upon showing the pharmacists license.
- Another technique consists of printing a double price tag, whereas some pharmacists mark-up a certain drug by 50% (featured image above)
- Some also adapt an up-selling method to make you purchase useless complements that should be taken along with your initial prescription.
- Customer can get a prescription signed by a doctor from a pharmacy. In fact, some doctors sell pre-stamped blank prescription for the pharmacy clerk to fill up and later be used for social security claims. The fee ranges from 10,000 to 20,000 L.L and is split between the two parties.
Location, Location, Location
The progress of medicine, and therefore the expansion of pharmacy, has necessitated more stringent requirements in the training of pharmacists. Schools of pharmacy are now associated with universities, and a degree in pharmacy follows a four-year course of instruction. Many Lebanese pharmacists got their degrees from foreign institutions in Ukraine, Russia or Poland due to cheaper tuitions and easiness of studies.
While proficient pharmacists prefer to work in pharmaceutical companies and laboratories, many others end up as simple salespeople with an excellent memory for drug names.
In Lebanon, the law prohibits any pharmacy from opening within 300 m (road distance) of another pharmacy; while naming a pharmacy is the easiest part.
Most of the time it’s named after the owner: Pharmacie Antoine, Maya, Abdallah, Hasan, etc… or for its location: Pharmacie Tehwita, Rabieh, Zalka, Verdun, etc… it can also be religiously related Pharmacie Al-Mehdi, Arrasoul Al-Aazam, Saint Daniel, Notre Dame, etc… or even based on ideologies Pharmacie Al-Hurriya, Assalam, etc…
As a customer you are eligible for different kind of services that can affect your preference for a certain pharmacy, like discount on products reaching up to 20%, the availability of products, opening a credit account, free home delivery, and a loyalty card where points can be redeemed with non-prescription products.
One day a foreign friend insisted on asking me about the tremendous number of gas stations and pharmacies we have in Lebanon. I preferred to skip the long explanation about the corrupted system behind such establishments and summed it up with a “…Habibi, we’re sick people who like car rides…”.