Serbian pharmacists warn of shortages, ask for help

BELGRADE, Oct 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's pharmacists appealed to the West on Wednesday for emergency medical supplies to avoid shortages and asked for special help for drug producers battered by political mismanagement and sanctions.

"The distribution of medicines has stopped completely and we are not receiving anything. Our supplies may last just for the next couple of days," said Desanka Vujinovic, head of state-run pharmacies in the city of Novi Sad.

"We do not expect any new deliveries soon," she told a news conference given by the Serbian Pharmaceutical Chamber.

The Chamber blamed Slobodan Milosevic's outgoing government for the difficult situation in the sector. Milosevic was forced to accept defeat in Yugoslav presidential elections by a mass uprising earlier this month.

Pharmacists said his government had kept prices artificially low to buy social peace but had now removed price controls, causing some costs to soar.

Miomir Nikolic, the deputy director of the chamber's management board, said the best way to avoid shortages would be to help revive the domestic pharmaceutical industry.

"If they (Western governments) really want to help us, they should not only send us thousands of tones of medicines but also redirect their funds into our plants to help them get back on its feet," he said.

"Low prices of drugs have caused huge losses and pushed the country's drug factories into a very difficult situation.

The ban on price increases translated into shortages at home while Serbian-made medications were exported at higher prices mainly to Macedonia and the Bosnian Serb Republic.

Despite low prices, Serbia's pharmaceutical industry says it is owed YUN 600 million (around DEM 20 million marks at the real exchange rate) by a Serbian state health insurance fund for deliveries.

The debt excluded the health fund's liabilities to the biggest drugs plant, Galenika, recently reclaimed by its owner U.S.-based ICN .

Producers met on Wednesday to consider raising their prices to stem their accumulated losses.

Gordana Velovan, spokeswoman of drug producer Hemofarm, said the level of domestic prices was only 10 percent of those in Greece, Austria, Germany and Italy.

"Prices at home should be at least at the level of 40 percent of those abroad," she told Reuters by telephone.

"Prices of transport, energy, packaging and raw material have gone up, but only prices of medication remained under strict control. This brings us huge losses," she added.

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