Radioscopy of an announced and badly managed crisis

The announced departure of three pharmaceutical multinationals from Tunisia was harshly felt in the country, causing questions, concern, without unduly surprising.

For more than six years, representatives of laboratories and professional unions have not ceased to alert the public authorities to serious dysfunctions that could lead to a movement of disinvestment and serious problems in the country’s supply of medicines.

Today, the public authorities, which have not made the necessary anticipations to avoid this verdict, are only observing the damage, finding themselves in a total inability to provide convincing arguments capable of stopping this spiral and restoring the operator confidence.

The announced departure of these three laboratories constitutes a new hard blow to the Tunisian business site, in loss of competitiveness.

Since 2011, the business environment in the country has continued to deteriorate and the country’s competitiveness has only lost ground due to political instability but also and, above all, fiscal instability, an administration cumbersome, tedious and very non-transparent procedures, an endless crisis of public finances and uncertain visibility.

Moreover, foreign direct investment in the country is only decreasing from one year to another. With the exception of extension projects promoted by foreign companies established in the country, very few new foreign investors have come to Tunisia.

The information confirmed by the country’s authorities on the departure of three pharmaceutical companies has only increased a hitherto underlying malaise that the health sector in the country has been experiencing for some time.

The latter finds its most perfect illustration in the colossal debts accumulated for more than 14 months by the Central Pharmacy of Tunisia towards pharmaceutical laboratories (approximately 234 million euros), the manifest inability of the Ministry of Health to establish a serious dialogue with professionals in the sector and to provide answers to their complaints, particularly regarding the registration of new drugs and its inaction with regard to the non-respect of intellectual property and patents.

The warning shot was given by the Union of Innovative Pharmaceutical and Research Companies (SEPHIRE), which brings together 20 pharmaceutical research and development laboratories. This new situation is likely to aggravate the crisis in which the health sector in Tunisia vegetates, this is all the more true as currently the foreign laboratories provide in value, two thirds of the drugs in the hospital sector and a third in the pharmacy sector and that 52% of the drugs supplied by these laboratories have no equivalent on the local market.

To defuse the bomb, the Tunisian Minister of Health, Ali Mrabet, while taking note of these departures, sought to reassure public opinion by maintaining that the drugs produced by these laboratories are and will remain available.

He nevertheless considered that they “had to leave it for several reasons, in particular because of internal restructuring”, adding that the new situation “can only push us to rely on ourselves even in the pharmaceutical industries”.

This measured optimism of the Minister is not shared by the President of the National Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry, Tarek Hammami, who expects a fourth departure from the country of a laboratory motivated essentially by the increase in the debts of the Central pharmacy with foreign pharmaceutical companies and who believes that this movement will not be without consequences in terms of the country’s supply of drugs and on the social level.

It should be noted that Tunisia currently has 41 manufacturers of human drugs, in addition to manufacturers of veterinary drugs and others. The sector employs 9,000 people with investments amounting to around 438 million euros at the end of 2021.

The departure of pharmaceutical laboratories is far from being an isolated case. The data recently announced by the Agency for the Promotion of Industry and Innovation (APII) are making you dizzy. Indeed, in the space of one year (from September 2021 to September 2022), we deplore the closure of 121 industrial entities in Tunisia, including 13 closures in the third quarter of the current year alone.

These closures concerned 44 totally exporting companies. Of the 121 industrial companies that have closed permanently, 24 are in partnership with Italy and 9 with Germany. A total of 6,000 people lost their jobs.

Today, the reasons that led to this exodus remain hidden, even unresolved, which augurs for an acceleration of this movement which feeds on the erosion of confidence in the Tunisian business site.

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