First came warnings, in messages to friends and family and on social media, to stock up on vital drugs in Russia before supplies were hit by crippling Western sanctions on the invasion of Ukraine.
Then, some drugs really became more difficult to find in pharmacies in Moscow and other cities.
“No pharmacy in town has it now,” a Kazan resident told The Associated Press in late March of a blood thinner his father needs.
Experts and health authorities in Russia say the shortage of medicines is temporary, due to panicked purchases and logistical difficulties for suppliers due to sanctions, but some remain concerned that high-quality medicines will continue to disappear in the Russian market. .
“Most likely there will be shortages. 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 professor at Moscow-based Pirogov Medical University.
Reports that Russians could not find certain drugs in pharmacies started surfacing in early March, shortly after Moscow waged a war against Ukraine and sweeping sanctions left Russia increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. .
Patient’s Monitor, a patient rights group in the Russian Caspian region of Dagestan, began receiving complaints in the second week of March.
Ziyautdin Uvaysov, head of the group, told AP that he personally checked the availability of the 10 most sought-after drugs with several state pharmacies in the region and “they did not have a large number”.
Uvaysov added that when asked when the supplies would be restocked, the pharmacies replied that “there are none and it is not clear when there will be”.
Despite assurances from authorities that the accumulation of supplies was responsible for the rapid emptying of shelves, reports of shortages persisted throughout March.
Vrachi.Rf, one of Russia’s largest online communities for healthcare professionals, interviewed more than 3,000 doctors in mid-March and said they found shortages of more than 80 medications: anti-inflammatory, gastrointestinal, antiepileptic and anticonvulsant drugs, as well as antidepressants. and antipsychotics.
About a dozen people contacted by the PA in different cities in late March said they spent days researching certain thyroid medications, types of insulin, or even a popular pain reliever syrup for children. Some said they were unable to find them at all.
“The patients I treat have lost some blood pressure medications,” Erlikh said. “And some doctors I know report problems with some very expensive and very important drugs (used in) certain surgical procedures.”
Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has repeatedly assured that the availability of medicines is not a problem in the country and blamed any shortages in panicked purchases. He said the demand for some drugs has increased tenfold in the past few weeks and urged the Russians not to stockpile drugs.
Experts agree that panic buying played a role in creating drug shortages.
“People rushed to stock up and, in some cases, supplies that should have lasted a year or a year and a half were purchased within a month,” Nikolay Bespalov, director of development at the analytics firm, told AP. RNC Pharma.
Bespalov also highlighted the logistical problems that occurred at the start of the crisis. While major Western pharmaceutical companies have pledged not to withdraw vital drugs from the Russian market, sanctions have cut major Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system, hindering international payments. Dozens of countries have cut off air traffic with Russia, disrupting supply chains.
The expert pointed out that the logistical problems have largely been resolved, but panicked purchases, driven by fears that foreign companies cut off supplies, could 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 Siberia’s Kemerovo region, reported a shortage of various drugs in the last days of March, amid the continuing panic buying.
Russian health watchdog Roszdravnadzor, however, said in a statement Friday that “the situation on the drug market is gradually returning to normal, panicked pharmaceutical purchases are decreasing.”
Erlikh, the cardiologist, pointed to existing problems with quality drugs in Russia, which according to some estimates imports up to 40% of its drugs.
After authorities launched an import substitution policy to counter sanctions for annexing Crimea in 2014 and to promote their own drugs over foreign-made drugs, shortages of some imported drugs have become 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 expensive, high-quality drugs to Russia.
In 2015, the state procurement of drugs for state-funded hospitals and clinics, which account for up to 80% of the Russian pharmaceutical market, became subject to the “three is a crowd” rule, which excluded foreign companies if at least two Russian companies were bidding on a contract.
The government has also continued to add more drugs to the “vital medicines” list, a register of more than 800 essential drugs, for which the authorities have set relatively low and mandatory prices. Companies can request the modification of the established price once a year, but the process is long, heavily bureaucratic and does not lead to a guaranteed result.
“We have already gradually lost one major original drug after another. Generics are taking their place, and while there are some pretty good ones produced in Europe, there are also some dubious ones produced in Russia, ”Erlikh said.
“Of course, when there are no original drugs, a generic is better than nothing. But it’s a situation of (deliberately) lowering the bar, it’s not a good way to live, “she added.
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