Friday April 12, 2024

Punjab home department highlights shortage of dozens of medicines

By M. Waqar Bhatti
March 05, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Due to an unannounced production halt of several medicines by the local and multinational pharmaceutical companies in Pakistan, an acute shortage of medicines including life-saving and essential medicines has been pointed out by the intelligence officials of the home department of Punjab, officials in the federal government said on Saturday.

“The home department of Punjab has identified a list of dozens of medicines including life-saving and essential drugs, which are currently not available at pharmacies and medical stores in 41 districts of Punjab and warned that their shortage could lead to serious consequences which may include law and order situation”, an official of the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) told The News.

The list of medicines not available in the medicine markets of Punjab includes Streptokinase injection, which is used to save the lives of patients suffering from myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke, has vanished from the market and is also not available at major hospitals including public and private tertiary-care health facilities. Similarly, another essential medicine heparin among others is not available in the 41 districts of Punjab, the official said while citing the list of non-available medicines sent prepared by the Punjab Home Department, saying the absence of this essential medicine could lead to the deaths of people as it is a life-saving medicine and regularly used for treatment and prevention of blood clots. Instead, “the intelligence officials have found normal saline being administered to patients and hospitals in the vials of heparin injection, which can cause the death of critically sick patients.

At the same time other spurious drugs are also in circulation due to the non-availability of genuine drugs, whose production has been stopped by the local and multinational companies without formally announcing force majeure”, the NHS official informed.

According to the list (available with The News), medicines for the treatment of epilepsy, antipsychotic drugs including lithium carbonate, which is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines and used for the treatment of manic-depressive disorder (bipolar disorder). Another essential tablet, Carbamazepine, is used for the management of bipolar disorder is also not available. Dozens of other medicines including those for the treatment of cancer, psychiatric illnesses, essential antibiotics, neurological disorder, and painkillers as well as over-the-counter drugs including Panadol products despite increase in their price by the government are not available anywhere.

An official of the Punjab Home Department, when approached, claimed that they have observed suspension of production of many drugs by the pharmaceutical companies, which is leading to a severe shortage in the market and warned that if this issue was not resolved, patients’ sufferings would increase manifold.

Pakistani pharmaceutical industry representatives confirmed to The News that many pharmaceutical companies, both multinational and local pharmaceutical companies have stopped manufacturing several medicines, whose cost of production is now above the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) given by the authorities, saying no company could produce medicines on higher cost and sell them on less than the production cost. “Some MNCs and NCs stopped production because of severe losses due to the dollar appreciation. Due to the LC pending issues, many active and excipients have been short, and hence, production cannot be continued”, a representative of the pharmaceutical industry said while commenting on the shortage of medicines.

Zahid Saeed, the former Chairman of the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PPMA) said pharmaceutical companies have not been closed down but many have stopped producing medicines whose cost of production has become unbearable due to dollar appreciation, increase in the prices of petroleum productions, electricity, gas tariff increase and rising inflation in the country. “A few weeks back, we had written a letter to the ministry of health and the DRAP that in coming weeks, many companies would stop production of several medicines as they are no more financially feasible for them. We had warned that medicines would not be available, which is being witnessed now”, he added.

He maintained that nobody took the concerns of the pharmaceutical companies seriously including authorities, media and politicians and added that in the days to come, companies would start sending force majeure letters of different products. Saeed also warned that a big crisis of some essential products including ORS could hit the country in summer when it is needed the most to treat diarrhoea and other gastrointestinal diseases.

It is worth mentioning here that the drug control section of the Islamabad health department has already identified some 131 medicines including some essential and life-saving medicines which are currently not available at the pharmacies in the capital.

Commenting on the situation, an official of the Islamabad health department clarified that the list of drugs that are not available was shared with the ‘Focal Person on Availability of Drugs of DRAP’. “Furthermore, the list contains an overwhelming number of drugs that are not life-saving drugs and have multiple alternates available in the market”, the official said adding that the shortage of specific brands or generics is a routine phenomenon existing across the globe, however, the concerned regulatory authorities are fully cognizant of their responsibility to ensure regular supply of life-saving drugs.