The announcement of the possible privatization of the Pharmacy “Belgrade” appeared in the media at the beginning of the year, when the Deputy Mayor of Belgrade stated: “We intend to sell pharmacies because the capital, like all modern cities, should deal with what it provides to the citizens – namely, the communal services – and there is no need to deal with non-communal activities”.
The coronavirus pandemic probably slowed down the realization of this intention of the city leaders, but in the meantime it was announced that the privatization of the city network of pharmacies could take place after the privatization processes of the Belgrade Palace and the Sava Centar congress hall will have been completed.
However, even before the privatization of the Pharmacy “Belgrade” was officially initiated, representatives of the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Belgrade (SSSB) have launched an initiative to keep this institution in public ownership at the recently held Social and Economic Council of Belgrade (SES).
The representatives of employers and the City who sit in the local SES were not thrilled with this proposal, as stated in a press release the union has published after the meeting of the city SES: “Representatives of the Union of Employers refused to participate in the working group because they don’t see how they could contribute to this initiative. Representatives of the city authorities of Belgrade supported the initiative in principle, albeit adding that the city of Belgrade has already entered the process of privatization of the Pharmacy “Belgrade”, and that in that sense there is no logic for them to support this initiative now. “
The president of the SSSB, Dragan Todorović, stated for Mašina that the Pharmacy “Belgrade” is a part of the public health system of Serbia:
We have seen in the previous period that strengthening of the private sector in healthcare leads to health becoming a commodity. It becomes a market like any other, so that the affluent go to private clinics, and the rest turn to state healthcare.
Todorović believes that the “Belgrade” pharmacies, as part of public healthcare, represent a corrective factor on the drug market.
They operate with a small provision and in the interest of the citizens. Without public pharmacies, the pharmaceutical market becomes a regular market with only one parameter – profit. Those who can afford to will buy medicines, those who don’t will only be able to stare at the shop window! It is well known that prescription medication can also be obtained in private pharmacies. Now, imagine a situation without public pharmacies, when there is no corrective factor, so that private pharmacies go and raise prices by 20%! Do you know how much money from the National Health Insurance Fund that translates to? Millions of euros! That means less money for hospitals, for equipment, for doctors’ salaries, for health centres… A sure path to getting bad health service and to making it too expensive and unattainable for an ordinary citizen who works for a minimum salary of 250€. As you can see, the problem is very complex, warns Todorovic.
According to Todorović, the potential privatization of public pharmacies does not necessarily mean a problem in supplying citizens with medicines. However, he reminds that in addition to the supply of the widest range of drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, Pharmacy “Belgrade” is known for the most developed system of main drug production, i.e. special drug production for individual patients. As the trade union president says: “You will not find that way of making it in any private pharmacy.”
The drug market is stable in terms of supply. However, we are sure that the privatization of pharmacies will increase the price of medicines. Remember that at the beginning of the pandemic we paid 1.7€ for protective masks, then the state limited the price to 1€, and today there are 1.2 to 1.5€ a piece, says Todorović for Mašina.
Pharmacy “Belgrade” has a network of 124 pharmacies that are located in all Belgrade municipalities and employ just over 1,000 people. The foundations of this institution were laid in the middle of the 19th century, and the founding rights, as well as the disposal of property, were transferred from the Republic to the City of Belgrade in 2007.
The President of the Assembly of the City of Belgrade, as well as the director of the Pharmacy “Belgrade” did not answer our questions before the publishing of this text, so we could not find out if and when the process of privatization of pharmacies will officially begin. What the media reported earlier is that the city wants a scenario such as in Novi Sad, and that is to put the public institution to be operated as a concession.
Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić
This article was originally published in Serbian on Sep 30, 2020.