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Saturday June 22, 2024

Unavailability of medicines: Action ordered against black marketeers of essential drugs

By M. Waqar Bhatti
September 04, 2023

KARACHI: Following the unavailability of several essential and life-saving medicines at pharmacies and hospitals across Sindh, the health authorities on Sunday directed the provincial drug administration to launch an operation against profiteers and black marketeers, and ensure the availability of life-saving medicines in the province.

The health authorities asked the drug administration to seek the assistance of police and district administration for the “containment of the menace”, and sought a report on the action taken by its relevant department within 48 hours.

In a letter to the chief drug inspector, the Sindh director general health has also blamed the recent shortage on black marketing and hoarding by retailers and wholesalers.

In order to reduce the public’s miseries, reads the DG’s letter, immediate activation of all the relevant teams is advised to conduct strict vigilance of the wholesale and open market outlets as part of the menace containment measures related to shortage and black pricing of essential and life-saving drugs.

The DG has recommended this action in all the provincial districts, with particular emphasis on Karachi Division and Hyderabad City, with the necessary coordination of the respective district health officers, deputy commissioners and police officials.

He also said that a detailed report on these actions must be submitted in person to the office of the health minister and the health secretary within 48 hours.

An official confirmed that several essential medicines, including biological products, vaccines, immunoglobulins for treatment of cancers and insulin for diabetes management, and several other products are unavailable in the market.

Though the authorities blame black marketing and hoarding as reasons behind the shortage, the pharmaceutical industry believes that the massive rupee devaluation and the imposition of the recent four per cent sales tax on imported medicines are the other factors that have led to the prevalent crisis.

“Amid the increasing value of the US dollar, importers have stopped importing finished goods and medicines’ raw material,” said an importer. “Not just essential medicines but also dozens of non-essential medicines are unavailable at pharmacies across Pakistan, as manufacturers have stopped or reduced importing active pharmaceutical ingredients or raw material to manufacture medicines.”

As a result, he said, the market has flooded with smuggled and counterfeit medicines that are being brought into the country from Afghanistan, Iran and India. Despite being temperature-sensitive products, essential medicines are being smuggled in ordinary trucks without any cold storage, which makes them useless.

With a fresh blame game between the industry and the authorities, patients and their families are struggling to get essential medicines like insulin, anti-D immunoglobulin, cancer treatment products and several other medicines.

“So, people are forced to buy them from black marketeers at exorbitant prices,” said a retailer. “For instance, an immunoglobulin that was available for Rs6,000 until a few weeks ago is now being sold between Rs14,000 and Rs16,000.”

He said that black marketeers are selling the stock already available with them at exorbitant prices, but nobody is willing to safeguard the interests of the patients.

Sindh’s caretaker health minister Dr Saad Khalid Niaz agreed that the increasing value of the US dollar might have affected the import and production of medicines, but he insisted that there are also some issues that need to be fixed at the provincial level to improve the situation to some extent.

“That [rupee devaluation] would’ve been one of the reasons,” he told The News. “What we’re doing are the measures that fall under our mandate. There are issues that fall under the federal government, but we can check black marketing and artificial shortages.”

He said he had chaired back-to-back meetings on Sunday, issuing clear directives to the relevant officials and his department, stressing on taking strong action. He added he would also talk to the federal minister on Monday (today) for better coordination and cooperation along these lines.