Saudi Gazette – Pharmacies can be found on virtually every street corner in major cities of the Kingdom. The oversupply is obvious as streets host several pharmacies located only meters apart.
According to an official report by the Ministry of Health, the Kingdom has nearly 7,000 private pharmacies in various regions. The global average is one pharmacy per 8,000 people, according to Dr. Mansour Tabiqi, assistant professor in clinical medicine in the College of Medicine at King Abdulaziz University.
Based on the global average, the Kingdom, which has a population of nearly 28 million, only needs 3,500 pharmacies. A previous requirement for a distance of at least 250 meters between pharmacies was inexplicably canceled. Officials at the Ministry of Health said the explosion in the number of pharmacies came after the then health minister Adel Al Fakieh canceled the distance requirement.
30 pharmacies per investor
Several experts said pharmacies are highly concentrated in Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah, cities that have high population densities. Outside major cities, there is an acute shortage of pharmacies. Bylaws and regulations concerning pharmacies require that the owner or one of the partners holds a pharmacy degree and does not own more than 30 pharmacies.
A senior official at the ministry said the lack of pharmacies in villages is the result of a lack of demand and the ministry has been unable to coax investors to open pharmacies in areas where demand is low.
“We can’t force investors to open pharmacies outside of major cities. Every investor is mostly concerned about his financial interests, however, this does not mean villages and rural areas are ignored. The government provides excellent treatment and medicine to rural areas,” said the source on condition of anonymity.
He added the ministry closely monitors violations at private health institutions, pharmacies and medical support centers and takes appropriate action when necessary.
“The ministry takes monitoring and inspecting of all health-related institutions very seriously to ensure rules and regulations are followed and to maintain the integrity and safety of services provided to patients,” he said.
Dr. Al-Tabiqi, meanwhile, criticized owners of private pharmacies for only being concerned with turning a profit.
“Unfortunately, many businessmen and investors have entered in the pharmaceutical market without sufficient background on the nature of the profession and its ethics. If they are asked what they offer as services to the community in return for the profits they reap from the sales of medicines and lotions you won’t hear a positive answer,” he said.