Consumers in Ethiopia wake up each day to find the cost of living edging ever higher. The outcome is muffled consumption on most goods, except those essential and, evidently, items of life and death. The latter category is medicine. The private health sector has long been outside the affordability of the majority of citizens. Lately, not even public institutions with fat budgets can offer shelter. From prescription medications to personal protective gear, even referral hospitals like Tikur Anbessa (Black Lion) have become less affordable alternatives. Patients are demanded to cover the cost of surgical gloves for use by health professionals for checkups. A single vial of insulin is sold for 310 Br, double what it used to cost a year ago.

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Driving prices up is the sharp depreciation of the Birr against major foreign currencies, which has made imports expensive. But it is only one of many reasons. Another is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which exerts upward price pressure in the global health industry as demand remains high. Supply chain disruptions have not done anyone a favour either, with shipping costs quadrupling over the past two years. The fuel on the fire is a severe foreign currency crunch in the economy, which debilitates the capacity of pharmaceutical importers to source much-needed medications - pharmaceutical products are not only expensive but rare to come by. Even local manufacturers such as the state-owned Ethiopian Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing have their hands tied, cutting back on production for lack of inputs.

Taking the pain for the convergence of global and local disruptions that have escalated prices in the health sector are some of the most vulnerable groups in society, those whose health is compromised. As many are hoping for relief from the affront of inflation, in the case of patients, the ache from the rise of the cost of living is becoming all too literal.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 30,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1144]

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