By the time the government agreed to raise the price of medicines in January, 95% of the local factories that make drugs had stopped production, says Ali Ouf of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce. For now, shortages are easing. “Most missing medicine is now available, but in very small quantities,” says another pharmacist. “For contraceptives, one person cannot buy more than one pack.”
There has been talk of the government playing a larger role in the drugs market. (When there was a shortage of baby formula last year, the army intervened.) But its bureaucracy is already part of the problem. Several ministries regulate the import, manufacture and sale of drugs. The IMF has urged Egypt to abandon fixed prices. Locals want the government to widen and improve coverage.The Economist notes that access to contraceptives is rarely a matter of life and death. But, of course, while that may be true in the short term, in the long run a population that is already exceeding its available resources is facing a genuine life-or-death situation. And, to its credit, the Economist hints at this when it says that "...Egypt’s population is growing at 2.4% a year, much faster than most other developing countries. Water and food are in short supply. The government can hardly serve the 92m Egyptians alive today."