As drug supplies run short, Egyptians turn to herbal remedies

Herbal medicine worker taking spices to make medicine A herbal store worker takes ingredients to prepare a natural herbal drug in Cairo, Egypt January 10, 2017. Picture taken January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

By Mohamed Zaki and Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

In the Cairo working class neighborhood of Basateen, dozens can be seen lining up outside a decades-old herbal spice shop with pyramid-shaped stacks of jars on display, filled with everything from honey and ginger to camel’s hay.

Apothecaries say there is a roughly 70-80 percent increase in sales after a series of harsh economic reforms hit medicine supply in pharmacies across the country and increased the cost of some generic and even life-saving drugs.

Store owner Samy al-Attar – whose last name is Arabic for apothecary – says a knowledgeable apothecary can find substitutes for drugs treating almost all non-terminal illnesses.

Just like pharmacies, the walls inside al-Attar’s store are lined with drawers and containers. But rather than pharmaceutical drugs, they hold herbs, each said to have its own unique healing property.

Customers impatiently crowd outside the shop window, where employees can be seen dashing around the tiny interior, choosing from a variety of textures and colors, filling clear plastic bags with orders.

Al-Attar’s role is like many pharmacists. Customers explain their symptoms and he produces a concoction of spices and herbs along with a method of administration.

Egypt’s health ministry is in the middle of negotiations with pharmaceutical companies over a 15 percent increase in prices of locally-produced drugs, and a 20 percent increase in the prices of imported ones.

Local spices and herbs, meanwhile, cost between 5 and 10 Egyptian pounds ($0.27-0.54) per kilogram.

($1 = 18.5000 Egyptian pounds)

(Writing by Seham Eloraby; Editing by Ahmed Aboulenein and Mark Potter)

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