The only pharmaceutical factory in the Gaza Strip is struggling to survive Israeli restrictions and the economic crises brought about by the 12-year siege imposed on the coastal enclave.
The factory has been subjected to Israeli military attacks since 2003, long before the siege was imposed on the Strip in 2007, which caused an economic crisis, halted the factory’s development and caused production to drop by 80 per cent.
General manager of Middle East Pharmaceutical and Cosmetics Laboratories – or Megapharm, to which the factory is affiliated – Marwan Al-Astal, explained that: “Israeli attacks on the factory started in 2003 when the occupation army stormed its headquarters in the town of Beit Hanoun and stayed there for three months. During this period, lots of equipment, machines and raw materials were destroyed.”
“The Israeli occupation forces stormed the headquarters of the factory nine times after 2003, causing a lot of damage which cost us a fortune,” Al-Astal added during an interview with Anadolu Agency.
Al-Astal also pointed out that the Israeli army targeted the factory headquarters with rockets during the wars waged on Gaza Strip in 2008, 2012, and 2014. He estimated the losses caused by Israeli attacks on the factory since 2003 to exceed one million dollars.
Al-Astal explained that “since 2007, Israel has prevented the factory from exporting its goods from Gaza to the West Bank markets, in addition to other countries where we are granted working licence, such as Algeria”. He continued: “This situation, as well as the economic crisis the Palestinians have been suffering from due to the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, have caused the factory’s production to drop by 20 per cent.”
Al-Astal pointed out that the Israeli authorities prevented the factory from receiving raw materials for a year and a half in 2007, thereby suspending production during this period. However, regional and international human rights organisations intervened and work was resumed.
The suspension of the pharmaceutical factory’s production for a year and a half, as well as Israel’s prohibiting the exportation of its products to foreign markets, caused the factory to lose millions of dollars and curb its development. “The number of items expected to be produced was more than 200, but the factory only produced 105,” Al-Astal said.
The obstacles facing the factory have halted any further recruitment and the current number of employees is 51. “Israel is fighting against this factory because it wants to stop any Palestinian pharmaceutical industry, which represents a strategic and important industry,” said Al-Astal.
Al-Astal also stressed that “despite the Israeli restrictions and attacks, as well as the economic crisis the Gaza Strip is witnessing, which have reduced the demand for medicines, we have maintained production at a monthly rate of 20 tons of pain killers, antibiotics, ointments and fluids used to treat respiratory diseases such as coughs and colds”.
He pointed out that the factory, which was established in 1999, is the only facility producing seven medicines which are not produced by Palestinian factories in the occupied West Bank or factories in Israel. Under the restrictions imposed by Israel on the supply of medicines to Gaza, the factory offers cheap pharmaceutical alternatives to many imported items, covering 12 per cent of the needs of the local market in the Strip.
One of the biggest challenges to the factory is access to raw materials. “Importing raw materials is the biggest problem the factory is currently facing because it needs both the approval of the Israeli Ministries of Health and Environment to import any material, as well as the Israeli army,” said Sami El-Taban, store manager at Megapharm.
During an interview with Anadolu, El-Taban stated that “the importation of raw materials takes six months, because of the obstacles imposed by Israel on this process”.
He highlighted that the factory is forced to import a large amount of raw materials every time Israel grants it permission in order to ensure the continuity of its work. As a result, large quantities of these materials have expired by the time they are used, causing the factory to suffer huge financial losses.
El-Taban stressed that Israel prevented the factory from importing 15 types of raw materials used to produce around 20 types of drugs.