YEREVAN (A.W.)—Based on a decision adopted in Nov. 2017, out of the 4,700 medicines registered in Armenia, 2,700 will be obtainable only through possession of a doctor’s prescription. This is a dramatic change from current practice in Armenia’s healthcare, in which most medicines—even antibiotics and hormone-based medicines—are available over-the-counter.
The new regulation will go into effect gradually. Starting March 1, 2018, only certain medicines—such as anti-inflammatory (including antibiotics), hormone-containing and specially-controlled medicines—will be require a prescription from a medical professional in order to obtain. By Oct. 2018 the rest of the 2,700 medicines will be available upon doctor’s note.
Many doctors are speaking in favor of the new regulation, believing that rules like this should have been put into place a long time ago. They hope the new law will finally put an end to the dangerous practice of self-diagnosis, particularly the tendency to purchase unprescribed antibiotics without a doctor’s consultation or proper diagnosis.
Since out-of-pockets payments account for over 50% of the health expenditure in Armenia—costs which are tied mainly to inpatient care and pharmaceuticals—some worry that the added regulation and doctor’s visits will likely increase already-burdensome healthcare costs for vulnerable segments of the population. Some also fear that the new regulation, which will result in a large increase in doctors’ visits, will overload polyclinics.
Other specialists worry that an underground network of medicine circulation may develop, resulting in an unregulated black market. Prior to March 1, some reports have emerged of citizens hoarding medicines, to “stock up” in preparation of the new regulation. In an interview, one local pharmacy employee recalled recent incidents, in which citizens were purchasing large quantities of medicines, even if the medicines could have still been obtained without a prescription after the deadline.
Some specialists, arguing that the decision was hastily made, have suggested to focus on more overarching reforms in the healthcare sector, such as the introduction of medical insurance for citizens, which would include periodic examinations, respective prescriptions, and free medication in certain cases, rather than offering solutions which contain risks of frauds.
Levon Nersisyan, head of the A.D. Sakharov Armenian Human Rights Protection, an NGO dedicated to building civil society in the country, has already voiced his concerns over the professionalism of the decision makers, as well as possible health and social risks, which may result from this decision.