Greek crisis creates medicine shortages

by Helene Colliopoulou

Greece's highly uncertain future has forced businesses into a quasi hand-to-mouth existence, with one of the most alarming effects a shortage of medicines, including for the seriously ill.

"Pharmaceutical companies are no longer interested in selling to Greece where hospitals and pharmacies are in debt," said Kostas Lourantos, head of the pharmacies' association in the Attica region that includes the capital Athens.

"This is the case with Roche, Bayer, and Sanofi" and other big pharma companies, he said. "Drug prices are also very low compared to other European countries."

He added that there are currently shortages of medicines such as antibiotics, antidepressants and insulin for diabetes sufferers.

Ahead of elections on June 17 that may result in Greece departing the eurozone, business as usual is already a thing of the past as firms in all sectors brace themselves for potential economic chaos.

"Everybody is just waiting for the new government. This political uncertainty is exacerbating an already bad , with loans down to zero," Eleftherios Kourtalis, head of the federation, told AFP.

For importers in particular the situation is drastic, with their suppliers abroad increasingly demanding that they be paid up-front while Greek firms can still pay in euros, instead of on credit.

Last week Euler Hermes, the world's number one trade credit insurer, said that it was no longer providing cover for firms exporting goods to Greece, following a similar move by Coface, owned by French bank Natixis.

"These decisions put a bomb under the foundations of the economy, rattling the basis for production and commerce," said Christina Sakellaridi, president of the Greek exporters' federation.

The result, she said, was a "reduction in imports of primary goods needed by Greek manufacturers."

Worst-hit is health care, a sector which is also grappling with problems of its own, most notably state EOPYY's problems in reimbursing pharmacies for medicines sold to consumers at a much-reduced rate.

"EOPYY owes us 750 million euros dating back to January 2012, adding to debts of 250 million euros from last year," said Lourantos from the pharmacies' association.

The government is trying to help, meanwhile, with the health ministry recently freeing up loans needed to buy emergency medication, while EOPYY last week paid off 200 million euros of its arrears.

Following several strikes, pharmacies recently began increasing the pressure by demanding that patients supposedly insured by EOPYY pay the full price for medicines.

"Many patients cannot pay," said Vassiliki Kalyva, the owner of a in central Athens.

Those with serious illnesses including cancer "are finding it hard to find their drugs because they are very expensive and neither hospitals nor pharmacies can afford to buy them."

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