PHARMACISTS across the country shut up shop at noon yesterday to hold a
three-hour pavement protest with their employees.
The demonstrations were against the new medicines pricing regulations, which
pharmacists say will cause most pharmacies to close - although Cape Town pharmacists suggested yesterday that they would break the law to remain in business.
The protests were part of a national save your pharmacist campaign, which
is planned to culminate in a march to parliament. Pharmacists nationally are trying to collect over one million customers' signatures for a petition against the regulations, to be handed over at the end of the march.
I have been flooded with calls about the regulations. Even the corporate pharmacies are with us, said Steve White of Forest Glade pharmacy in Tokai, who suggested the protest at a national pharmacists' meeting recently.
The Cape Times drove along the main road from Rondebosch to Plumstead
yesterday and found every pharmacy closed. At all but one of them, staff were holding up placards.
Some protested sedately. Ask your pharmacist - soon you might not have
one, said the framed, neatly printed posters of the staff protesting quietly outside Belvedere Pharmacy in Claremont.
However, staff outside a pharmacy on Wynberg Main Road were waving their posters passionately at motorists and holding up the traffic. Doctors doctor, nurses nurse - does that mean pharmacists farm? read posters outside a Plumstead pharmacy.
Forget the tahrs - save your pharmacy, read the posters outside Melrose Pharmacy in Rondebosch. Do you want third-world healthcare? Manto will help, said others. In Johannesburg there were similar scenes, with some pharmacists and their employees holding aloft posters saying Closed in protest against new laws and Closed. Say no to Manto and save pharmacies.
The regulations of the Medicines Act, which were announced by the health minister in April, are being implemented in phases. Special deals, including the discounts that manufacturers were giving to bulk buyers, have been outlawed, and these discounts have since been built into drug prices.
This alone would have reduced prices, but pharmacists have also been
prohibited from giving discounts, which has caused prices to rise. It is doubtful whether consumers are yet getting cheaper drugs. In August pharmacists will be permitted to charge a maximum R26 dispensing fee and R16 for low-schedule, safe drugs. This should make drugs cheaper,
but the Pharmaceutical Society says it will cause over 75% of pharmacies to close.
Many pharmacists were charging a R50 dispensing fee until recently, and most are reportedly now charging between R36 and R40. I don't know that there's anybody in the present structure who can
survive, White said yesterday. (Source:Jo-Anne Smetherham:The Cape Times SAPA,2 June 2004)