Lack of cancer medicine leads to black market
ISTANBUL - Radikal
High priced, rarely found cancer drugs can be found on the black market.
Cancer drugs are starting to find their way onto Turkey’s black market, amid a growing conflict between drug firms and the Health Ministry over pricing policies. Cancer drugs that normally cost 52 Turkish Liras can fetch 900 liras in the oncology units of hospitals, daily Radikal reporter İdris Emen revealed in recent undercover research he conducted while posing as the relative of a cancer patient.
Some 30,000 cancer patients appeal on a monthly basis to the Turkish Pharmacologists Association (TEB) for the import of required drugs, but much of the medicine is finding its way to the black market due to shortages in pharmacies and because it often takes the TEB between two and 30 days to import the necessary drugs.
Emen searched for three cancer drugs, Bleomycin, Deticene and Purinethol, in the corridors of Cerrahpaşa Medicine Faculty’s Oncology service and met with a black marketer in his 20s who said he could provide the drugs at a higher price. A pharmacist called a black marketer who wanted 120 liras for Purinethol, which is normally nine liras, and 900 liras for Deticene, which is normally sold for 52 liras.
An official from the hospital told Emen that security guards at the hospital attempted to remove black marketers from the hospital’s premises. The hopsital official, however, said that it was hard to separate the vendors from others.
According to TEB authorities, the cancer drugs are not available in pharmacies, mainly because of the price policies implemented by the Health Ministry. Because the ministry tries to provide the drugs at a cheap price, many drug firms do not sell them to avoid making a loss.
When the ministry attempts to buy a drug, it first determines which European countries sell the drugs at the cheapest price. The prices generally mirror those in Spain, since it has the lowest drug prices.
The ministry subsequently announces that it will pay 40 percent less for drugs sold in Spain, meaning a drug that goes for 100 euros will cost just 60 euros in Turkey. In the third stage, the ministry again announces a 20 percent discount on the already-reduced price so that the Social Security Institution (SGK) can meet the cost, meaning that the 100-euro drug ends up costing 48 euros. Consequently, drug firms choose not to import cancer drugs because of the resultant loss, paving the way for black marketers.
‘Health Ministry must revise price policies’
TEB Secretary-General Harun Kızılay said the Health Ministry must immediately revise its price policies on drugs.
“Many drugs are not available on the market due to the Health Ministry’s wrong pricing policies. As TEB, we are importing the drugs prescribed to those appealing to us. However, a black market has been formed due to the unavailability of drugs and the ignorance of the patients. The ministry should re-regulate its pricing system to resolve it. These drugs could be easily produced in Turkey under the guidance of TEB if the required conditions were met. We advise the patients to obtain their drugs through TEB, without relying on black markets,” Kızılay said.
Meanwhile, Patient Rights Organization head Orhan Demir said there were about 400,000 cancer patients in Turkey and that they were extremely demoralized at the problems associated in obtaining the drugs.