First there were the warnings, in messages between friends and family and on social media, to stock up on vital drugs in Russia before supplies were hit by crippling Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
Later, some medicines became more difficult to find in pharmacies in Moscow and other cities.
“No pharmacy in the city has it now,” a Kazan resident told The Associated Press in late March about a blood thinner his father needs.
Experts and Russian health authorities say the drug shortage is temporary, due to panic buying and logistical difficulties for suppliers due to sanctions, but some remain concerned that high-quality drugs continue to disappear in the world. Russian market.
“Most likely there will be a shortage. How catastrophic it will be, I don’t know,” said Dr. Alexey Erlikh, head of the cardiac intensive care unit at Moscow Hospital No. 29 and a professor at Moscow-based Pirogov Medical University.
Reports that Russians couldn’t find certain drugs in pharmacies began to surface in early March, shortly after Moscow unleashed a war on Ukraine and sweeping sanctions left Russia increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.
Patient Monitor, a patients’ rights group in Russia’s Caspian region of Dagestan, began receiving complaints in the second week of March.
Ziyautdin Uvaysov, head of the group, told the AP that he personally checked several state pharmacies in the region for the availability of the 10 most sought-after drugs and “they didn’t have a large number of these.”
Uvaysov added that when he asked when the supplies would be replenished, the pharmacies replied that “there are none and it is not clear when there will be.”
Despite assurances from authorities that hoarding of supplies was to blame as shelves emptied quickly, reports of shortages persisted throughout March.
Vrachi.Rf, one of Russia’s largest online communities for medical workers, surveyed more than 3,000 doctors in mid-March and said they had encountered a shortage of more than 80 drugs: anti-inflammatory, gastrointestinal, anti-epileptic and anticonvulsant drugs. , as well as antidepressants and antipsychotics.
About a dozen people contacted by the AP in different cities in late March said they had spent days searching for certain thyroid medications, types of insulin or even a popular pain-relieving syrup for children. Some said they couldn’t find them at all.
“Patients I treat have missed some blood pressure medication,” Erlikh said. “And some doctors I know report problems with certain very important and very expensive medications (used in) certain surgical procedures.”
Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has repeatedly assured that drug availability is not a problem in the country and has blamed any shortages on panic buying. He said demand for certain drugs has increased tenfold in recent weeks, and has urged Russians not to stockpile the drugs.
Experts agree that panic buying has played a role in creating drug shortages.
“People rushed to stock up, and in some cases supplies that were supposed to last a year or a year and a half ran out in a month,” Nikolay Bespalov, director of development at analytics company RNC, told the AP. Pharma.
Bespalov also pointed to logistical problems that occurred early in the crisis. While major Western pharmaceutical companies have pledged not to withdraw vital drugs from the Russian market, the sanctions barred Russia’s major banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system, hampering international payments. Dozens of countries have stopped air traffic with Russia, disrupting supply chains.
The expert stressed that logistical problems have largely been resolved, but panic buying, triggered by fears that foreign companies will stop supplies, may continue to fuel shortages for some time.
“Clearly, until the emotions calm down, it will continue,” Bespalov said.
Local news sites from Vladimir, just east of Moscow, to the Kemerovo region of Siberia, reported shortages of several drugs in the last days of March amid ongoing panic buying.
However, Russia’s healthcare watchdog Roszdravnadzor said in a statement on Friday that “the situation in the drug market is gradually returning to normal, panic buying of pharmaceuticals is declining.”
Erlikh, the cardiologist, pointed to already existing problems with drug quality in Russia, which according to some estimates imports up to 40% of its drugs.
After the authorities launched an import substitution policy to counter sanctions for Crimea’s annexation in 2014 and promote their own medicines over foreign-made ones, shortages of certain imported medicines became a problem.
The policy outlined a wide range of preferences for Russian companies and ultimately made it unprofitable for foreign pharmaceutical companies to supply some of their high-quality and expensive drugs to Russia.
In 2015, state procurement of medicines for state-funded hospitals and clinics, which account for up to 80% of Russia’s pharmaceutical market, became subject to the “three’s a crowd” rule, which excluded foreign companies if at least two Russian companies submitted bids. for a contract
The government also continued to add more drugs to the “vital drugs” list, a registry of more than 800 essential drugs, for which authorities set mandatory and relatively low prices. Companies can request the change of the established price once a year, but the process is long, very bureaucratic and does not lead to a guaranteed result.
“We have already been gradually losing one major originator drug after another. Generics are taking their place, and while there are some pretty good ones made in Europe, there are also some dodgy ones made in Russia,” Erlikh said.
“Of course, when there is no original drug, a generic is better than nothing. But it is a situation of (deliberately) lowering the bar, it is not a good way to live,” he added.
Follow AP coverage of Russia and Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine