Price of medicines soars in Myanmar, leaving clinics short of supplies

Antibiotics and drugs treating long-term illness have seen the sharpest cost rise.
By RFA Burmese
2022.09.08
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Price of medicines soars in Myanmar, leaving clinics short of supplies Customers line up to buy medicines at a drug store in Yangon, July 22, 2022.
RFA

Rises in the cost of medicines in Myanmar are leaving many without access to treatment, with prices of basic drugs sometimes doubling and clinics often short of supplies, sources in the military-ruled country say.

Even medicines commonly used for treating head colds or flu now cost twice as much as they did before the Feb. 1, 2021 military coup that overthrew civilian rule in Myanmar, sources say.

“Prices are just going up and up,” a resident of the country’s former capital Yangon told RFA. “A packet of the widely used household medicine Mixagrip used to cost around 600 kyat [$0.29] but now sells for around 1,800,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“For a while, Mixagrip was not even available in the stores, but has started to show up on the shelves again just recently,” he said.

The cost of other medicines has also soared, with Cardivas, a drug used for treating heart conditions, almost doubling from 1,000 kyat ($0.48) to over 1,500 kyat, and Amlong-5, a drug used for treating hypertension, climbing from 3,400 ($1.62) kyat to 6,500 kyat, sources say.

The owner of a drug store in Yangon region’s Mingaladon township said that it is difficult to keep pharmaceuticals in stock because the costs charged by suppliers keep changing every day.

“I don’t order medicines anymore. I’m now just selling the ones I have, especially the drugs people need for emergencies,” he said. “I have to charge customers more than a thousand kyat each for the small packs that we used to sell for around 600.

“It’s not easy to sell to the public. People cannot pay that much,” he added.

RFA contacted Myanmar pharmaceutical companies to ask about the exorbitant prices of household medicines, but staff on duty said they were not allowed to discuss the matter. Officials at the Myanmar Medical Equipment Traders and Entrepreneurs Association also refused to answer questions.

Problems in foreign exchange market 

The owner of a major drugstore in Yangon’s Mingalar Market said that prices of household medicines have doubled due to the chaos in the foreign exchange market caused by dollar restrictions imposed by Myanmar’s Central Bank.

“The prices of commodities always change in accordance with the dollar price,” the store owner said, also asking for anonymity in order to speak freely. “We can still get drugs from our suppliers on a quota basis, like 20 or 30 bottles or packets at a time, and if a certain drug isn’t available, we can substitute it with another.

“The price of the drug in short supply would of course go up a little,” he added.

Drugs showing the greatest cost increase in recent months are antibiotics and drugs used in the long-term treatment of patients with cardiac and kidney problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

The prices of these medicines increased by 40% to 50% in August, sources say.

A doctor in Yangon region’s Hlaing Tharyar township told RFA that the number of patients seeking treatment at his private clinic has fallen recently due to the higher costs of medicines.

“Even if we don’t charge our doctors’ fees, drug prices have gone up a lot,” he said. “People are already facing hardships, especially in this township, and the high price of drugs is only making things worse.

“I can say that the number of patients visiting me has fallen a little. I think they only take home remedies nowadays instead of visiting the clinic if they feel a little unwell.”

Junta spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun denied to reporters in Naypyidaw on July 26 that medicines were in short supply and said that factories were turning out medicines that were high in quality though possibly expensive.

A 2021 survey by the UK-based website Prosperity.com, which tracks the education, health and safety conditions of different countries, ranked Myanmar’s development status at 133 out of 167 countries, with its health care ranking at 106.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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