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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Rules Threaten Chronically Ill People

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Getting back to normal life after the holidays was complicated for people who suffer from chronic illnesses when many discovered that they couldn't buy the medicines they needed. Pharmacies refused to sell these medicines without a prescription, citing a decree issued by Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov on New Year's Eve, which requires prescriptions for medicines designed to treat cardiovascular, pulmonary and other serious conditions.

The ministry points out that such requirements exist in all developed countries, that they are a condition of WTO membership, and that the decree actually expands the list of medicines that can be bought over the counter from 1,000 to 1,100.

It appears, however, that the authorities made little effort to study how such regulations have been implemented elsewhere, and there is serious concern that the new rules will harm average Russians and a market that generated more than $10 billion in revenues in 2006.

Although the ministry insists it gave fair warning of the rule change, patients have complained that no information was posted in medical clinics. If the new rules are implemented in full, the lines of people waiting to fill their prescriptions at pharmacies are likely to get significantly longer.

According to data from the World Health Organization, seven out of every 1,000 Russians die from cardio-vascular illnesses every year, the highest rate in the world. In Canada, by contrast, the number is 1.2 per 1,000, and 2.3 in France.

State Statistics Service data reveal that 56 percent of all deaths in this country result from illnesses of the circulatory system.

Those caught without a prescription can only rely on the kindness of their local pharmacist, but not all pharmacists are willing to take the risk of losing their licenses.

One solution would have been to follow the practice of developed countries and introduce refillable prescriptions or a database that allows those with chronic illnesses to give their names and prescription numbers and receive their medicines.

The possible revenue loss for drug store chains from the new measures has been estimated at up to $250 million. The dismal experience in Belarus, where the introduction of the same kind of system generated major losses for the pharmaceuticals sector, apparently did not register with Russian officials.

With any luck, we will see only limited inspections and punishments aimed at making an example of a few drug store chains. All the same, there are probably better ways to scare pharmacies into following the rules than running an experiment on real people and businesses.

This comment was published as an editorial in Vedomosti.