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Massive rupee devaluation causes shortage of essential medicines

At least 10-15 percent essential and life-saving medicines are not available in the market across Pakistan as importers have stopped importing finished goods and medicines’ raw material due to massive rupee devaluation and ongoing dollar-liquidity crunch

By M. Waqar Bhatti
September 02, 2023
Massive rupee devaluation causes shortage of essential medicines. The News/File
Massive rupee devaluation causes shortage of essential medicines. The News/File

ISLAMABAD: At least 10-15 percent essential and life-saving medicines are not available in the market across Pakistan as importers have stopped importing finished goods and medicines’ raw material due to massive rupee devaluation and ongoing dollar-liquidity crunch, it emerged on Friday.

In addition to essential medicines, dozens of non-essential medicines are also not available at pharmacies across Pakistan as manufacturers have stopped or reduced the import of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) or raw material for manufacturing medicines, medicine manufacturers and traders told The News.

They said due to unavailability of genuine medicines, market was flooded with smuggled and counterfeit medicines, which were being brought to the country from Afghanistan, Iran and India. Despite being temperature-sensitive products, essential medicines were being smuggled in ordinary trucks without any cold storage, which makes them useless, they added.

Similarly, counterfeit products, including anesthesia and blood-thinning agents like Heparin, had resulted in the deaths of several patients at hospitals across Pakistan, senior doctors and hospital managers claimed, adding that in the absence of genuine therapeutic goods, some medicine distributors were supplying counterfeit products, which were hard to recognise and detect.

“At least 10 percent of essential medicines, including biological products, vaccines, immunoglobulins for treatment of cancers, insulin for diabetes management as well as several other products are not available due to massive rupee devaluation and imposition of 4 percent sales tax on imported medicines,” Zahid Bakhtawari, Chairman of Pakistan Chemists and Druggists Association (PCDA), Punjab, claimed.

Bakhtawari said patients were moving from pillar to post to get essential medicines including insulin, Anti-D Immunoglobulin, cancer-treatment products and several others whose alternates were not available and people were forced to buy them from black-marketers at exorbitant prices.

“An immunoglobulin, whose price is Rs6,000, is being sold between Rs14,000 to Rs16,000 by black marketers in Karachi as importers are not willing to import these medicines on the existing prices. Black marketers are selling the stock available with them at exorbitant prices but nobody is willing to safeguard the interests of patients,” an importer of medicines in Karachi, who requested anonymity, said.

The importer said DRAP increased the prices of essential medicines by 14 percent and non-essential medicines by 20 percent in May this year when dollar was available at Rs263 but now dollar is available at Rs306 in the interbank and in the open market, it is being sold at Rs330.

“How can a person import an essential drug at a high price and sell it at low price in the country? There has been a 20 percent devaluation of Pakistani rupee against dollar in last two to three months but DRAP and government are not willing to adjust the prices of medicines due to political implications, which is resulting in massive shortages of drugs,” the importer added.

He further claimed that imposition of 4 percent sales tax by the FBR as well as 1.2 percent excise duty on imported medicines and finished goods by the Sindh government had proved to be detrimental and most of the importers had stopped bringing medicines to the country fearing serious financial losses.

Zahid Saeed, former chairman of Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PPMA), also blamed the massive rupee devaluation as the major cause of medicine shortages in the country, saying: “How could a person produce or import medicines at high prices due to increase in dollar rates and sell them on prices fixed by the government?”

The incumbent Chairman of PPMA, Farooq Bukhari, opined that drugs shortage could be aggravated in the days to come, if the dollar continues to rise. He deplored that there was no seriousness being seen anywhere to preempt and resolve this looming crisis. Interviews with officials of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) and Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) revealed that no decision had been taken by the present government on ‘209 hardship cases’ forwarded by the ministry for increasing prices of medicines, both imported and locally produced, which were not available in the country or were short in supply. The DRAP on Friday re-constituted a committee and added more members from its licensing and registration sections in it to look into the drugs shortages, supply chain issues and take measures to ensure availability of unavailable essential medicines. “As per our information and knowledge, not more than 40 medicines are unavailable in the markets across Pakistan. The cause is supply-chain management issues. We are sorting them out. The issue of hardship cases is with the government and it is up to the authorities to decide whether to increase the prices or not,” a senior official of DRAP told The News.