Syria pharmaceutical production slashed by war

Syria's pharmaceutical industry once catered to 90 percent of the population's needs, but a shortage of foreign currency has brought production to a near halt, a pro-regime daily reported on Monday.

The central bank previously provided local industries with foreign currency at preferential rates to help finance the import of raw materials.

But the bank has now put an end to this practice, Al-Watan cited officials as saying.

On the black market, one US dollar now fetches 150 Syrian pounds -- three times more than at the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad more than two years ago.

The authorities have fixed the official exchange rate at 99 Syrian pounds to the dollar.

"The Central Bank has recently stopped providing foreign currency at the official rate," Syrian pharmaceuticals' Scientific Council said in a letter to Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi, published by Al-Watan.

Despite the obstacles caused by the 26-month conflict and "the sharp increase in foreign exchange rates", the pharmaceutical industry "has managed to maintain its prices", the council said.

"We have run out of raw materials, and in order to keep producing, we need to restock at the (official) exchange rate," the letter added.

The head of the Syrian Chamber of Industry, Fares Shehabi, warned that "the majority of pharmaceutical companies would have to cut their production of antibiotics by nearly 70 percent" if the situation does not change, Al-Watan said.

"Companies that have made no profit for two years will have to just stop working entirely," Shehabi added.

"Most (pharmaceutical) companies in Aleppo (in northern Syria) and Damascus have already stopped producing most medicines," he said.

Shehabi added that if local pharmaceutical companies imported raw materials at the unofficial rate they would go bankrupt, calling it a "catastrophe the government must avoid."

"This is a catastrophe in the making. Local drugs are disappearing, and medicines that cost five times more are being smuggled in."