While Health Ministry inspects drug shortage, flu vaccines also unavailable

Last week, the Turkish Pharmacists Association (TEB) announced that 645 drugs are currently unavailable on the Turkish market due to the plummeting value of the lira. Now, citizens are also reporting that they are unable to get flu vaccines.

This file photo shows people working at a pharmacy.

Duvar English

As the drug crisis in Turkey deepens, with 645 medications currently unavailable on the market according to the Turkish Pharmacists’ Association, many Turkish citizens are now reporting that they are unable to find flu vaccines. After denying the drug shortage, the Turkish Health Ministry is now conducting an “investigation” into drug stocks but has yet to address the vaccine shortage. 

Last week, the Turkish Pharmacists Association issued a jarring warning about the Turkish medication market - 645 drugs critical to patient care, such as painkillers, antibiotics, and insulin, are currently near-impossible to find on the Turkish market, they said. With the value of the Turkish lira plummeting, drug companies are not selling to Turkey at agreed-upon prices and patients are unable to access critical medication. Many people go to pharmacies and return empty-handed. 

After initially denying the drug shortage, the Health Ministry then launched an investigation in 81 provinces to determine the cause of the shortage. Pharmacists, opposition politics, and medical experts say the cause is simple: a drop in the value of the lira and unilaterally determined drug prices. Each year, a governmental committee determines along with pharmaceutical companies the drug price rate - this year it was 4.75 lira to the euro. In reality, the exchange rate is now 11.5 TL to the Euro, and Turkish pharmacies - highly reliant on foreign medication - are now unable to purchase those drugs from international companies. 

Now, it appears the shortage is not limited to medication - a similar situation has arisen with the flu vaccine. Flu season has arrived, and medical experts are warning that it is especially critical to get the flu vaccine this year in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. However, when some people in Turkey go to pharmacies to get the flu vaccine, they are turned away. 

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) lawmaker Gamze Taşcıer criticized the Health Ministry'S denial of the healthcare crisis in an interview with daily Cumhuriyet. She said the issue should be the ministry’s responsibility, not the responsibility of the pharmacists now being “investigated.”

“The Ministry is trying to pass the blame onto someone else,” Taşcıer said. “Pharmacists are not responsible for the lack of medicine. [The Ministry is acting] as if there is someone or some 'external force’ stockpiling the medicine. The government is incompetent and is passing off a problem that it cannot manage onto someone else.”

She pointed to the pricing issue as the main reason behind the drug crisis. Because Turkey is not an economically stable country, she said, prices should be reviewed every quarter so that it can keep purchasing critical medication from abroad.