Pharma industry calls for price deregulation as medicine crisis deepens

September 24, 2023

MURREE: In view of growing inflation due to rupee-dollar disparity, local pharmaceutical industry leaders have urged the authorities to come up with a ‘price deregulation policy’ to ensure availability of all the registered and newly-invented medicines across Pakistan.

Speaking at an open house session as part of mid-summer conference of the Pakistan Society of Internal Medicine (PSIM), pharmaceutical industry leaders said the patients were suffering in entire Pakistan as both the locally produced and imported medicines were vanishing from the markets because of increasing production cost in the country as well as growing rupee-dollar disparity.

They also urged the government to enforce the international standards to improve the quality of medicines and encourage the competition, which would not only ensure the provision of high quality medicines but would ultimately bring down the prices.

“Like India and Bangladesh, where less than 300 and 150 medicines’ prices are regulated by the governments, the Pakistani authorities should also deregulate the prices of medicines except those which are on essential medicines’ list. At the moment, people are suffering due to the unavailability of both locally produced and imported medicines owing to increased cost of production,” Usman Khalid Waheed, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ferozsons Laboratories Limited, said. He said as the companies were not producing several medicinal products and the imported drugs were also not available due to growing rupee-dollar disparity, the people were forced to buy smuggled and spurious drugs on three to four times higher prices from the black market.

“Pharmaceutical industry in Pakistan wants our regulatory policy to be aligned with the rest of the world and there should be some sanity in it as we can’t live in isolation. The government should learn from the past experiences and do something practical for the patients, who are actually suffering due to unavailability of essential and non-essential drugs,” he added.

He maintained that hardship prices of medicines being demanded by the industry for 209 medicines were not only aligned with the prices in the region, including India and Bangladesh but in some cases, the requested prices were even lower than the prices of those medicines in the neighbouring countries.

“Three public listed multinational pharmaceutical companies have shown losses of Rs600 million, Rs500 million and Rs300 million in the last six months. Multinational companies are winding up their businesses as it is no more financially feasible for them to do business in Pakistan,” he said, adding that despite having the world’s third largest number of diabetics, the world’s largest insulin manufacturer exited Pakistan due to financial losses.

Commenting on interim health minister’s announcement regarding the establishment of ‘Pharma Park’ in Pakistan, he said nobody is willing to invest in ventures in Pakistan due to current economic crisis as well as policies of the government. The Managing Director of Searle Pharmaceutical, Tahir Ahmed, said several medicines for the treatment of chronic illnesses were not available in the market as they were low-priced and despite recommendations from the DRAP to increase their prices, the recommended prices of these medicines are not approved by the federal cabinet or the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet. “What we suggest is that the government should come up with a new pricing policy for the pharmaceutical industry and let the prices be decided by the regulator as per the approved policy,” he said. The other industry leaders, including Dr Khurran Hussain from Getz Pharma said new investments by the pharmaceutical industry, especially in the biotechnology plants were not possible due to lack of talent, research and development facilities and absence of technology in the country. “What we suggest is that the government should use the Central Research Fund’s five billion rupees for the establishment of R&D facility in the public-private partnership to develop new molecules and produce Active Pharmaceutical Industry (API) locally to reduce reliance on the imported raw material.” Captain (retd) Iqbal Ahmed, Chairman of the High-Q Pharma, said the people start conserving electricity when prices go up but they can’t reduce the use of medicines in case of an illness, adding that the companies stop producing medicines when they don’t make any profit and that results in the sufferings of people.

Dr Shehla Javed, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Don Valley Pharmaceutical Pvt Limited, deplored that local producers of medicines’ raw material were at the liberty of increasing prices of their products, which was resulting in increasing cost of production of locally-produced medicines.

President of the PSIM and caretaker Punjab Health Minister Prof. Javed Akram said due to prevailing economic and financial turmoil and political instability, many life-saving drugs had vanished from the market, claiming that drugs like heparin, insulin, lithium and other essential medicines were hard to find in the markets.

“Similarly, we are facing defaults on the part of pharmaceutical companies which agreed to provide medicines to the government and government institutions as they were claiming to be unable to provide tender medicines on rates they quoted due to increase in the cost of medicines,” he said, adding that they had asked the companies to fulfill 70 percent of their agreements and the government would issue new tenders for supply of medicines.

Claiming that Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry is a repackaging industry, Prof. Javed Akram deplored that there was no biotechnology plant for medicines’ production, while neighbouring India had 300 and China had 3,000 biotechnology plants.