HomeTop StoriesTunisia's poor economy hits celiac patients with a shortage of rice

Tunisia’s poor economy hits celiac patients with a shortage of rice

By Latifa Guesmi and Jihed Abidellaoui

TUNES (Reuters) – For Siwar Derbeli, a national rice shortage is not just another uncomfortable symptom of Tunisia’s strained national finances, but a source of hunger, as the celiac disease she suffers from means it’s one of the few staples she can comfortably eat can eat.

The shortage of imported goods sold at subsidized rates has increased in Tunisia since last year, with wheat, sugar, cooking oil and dairy products periodically disappearing from supermarket shelves along with some medicines.

While rice is not the most common staple in Tunisia, where bread, pasta and couscous are more commonly eaten, the lack of gluten makes it indispensable for the country’s estimated 100,000 people with celiac disease – an autoimmune disease that causes a dangerous reaction to gluten. causes.

“You come home and can’t find the basic food you need. It is a very unfortunate situation,” says Derbeli (18).

Her mother, Hasna Arfaoui, cooked Derbeli’s evening meal with expensive gluten-free pasta that is hard to afford for Arfaoui, an unemployed widow with three children who used to work as a cleaner.

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“We’ve had issues with her diet, and it’s been very tiring for us. The specialized food she needs is expensive and we often struggle to afford it. Basic ingredients like rice are missing,” she said.

The government has denied that the deficits are due to the crisis in public finances. Talks about a foreign bailout have stalled and rating agencies are warning that Tunisia may default on its sovereign debt.

However, economists, political analysts and Tunisia’s influential trade union have all said the government is delaying or halting imports of subsidized goods to meet the $5 billion budget deficit, despite the public problems.

Monji ben Hriz, president of the Tunisian Celiac Association, said no ship would unload rice until December and state supplies had already been depleted.

Some privately imported rice is available, but at a much higher cost it is unaffordable for many Tunisians.

“People are now experiencing real difficulties in obtaining rice and there are people who have changed their diet for this reason, putting their health at risk,” he said.

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(Reporting by Latifa Guesmi and Jihed Abidellaoui; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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