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No law to stop pharma companies from importing raw materials

No law to stop pharma companies from importing raw materials

ISLAMABAD: Even announcing its decision about four decades ago, the ministry of health has not yet formulated a policy to ensure multinational pharmaceutical companies produced raw materials in Pakistan and did not import them.

However, Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Saira Afzal Tarar claimed that steps were being taken and within a few years medicines would be manufactured with locally-made raw materials.

An official of the ministry of NHS requesting not to be identified said in the 60s and 70s the ministry had decided that policies would be formulated to ensure raw materials for the medicines were produced locally.

“However, it is unfortunate that most of the companies are still importing raw materials from India, China and Bangladesh. In the 60s, a number of companies came to Pakistan and established their manufacturing units in the country,” he said.

However, later due to the wrong policies and the open option to import raw materials, the firms not only stopped manufacturing in the country but also some of them, including Merck Sharp and Dohme, Bristol Myers Squibb, ICI, Roche and Johnson & Johnson, left Pakistan,” he said.

The Pakistan Young Pharmacist Association (PYPA) has also raised the issue and sent a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ensure raw materials were produced locally.

PYPA president Dr Nabeela Latif said the import of medicines in the country increased from $468.32 million in year 2014 to $519.50 million in 2015.

“Pharmaceutical manufacturing in Pakistan is facing serious problems in licensing and registration and the investors are relying on the import. The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) is not adopting the model of India, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Bangladesh which are rapidly becoming medicine-exporting countries,” said Dr Nabeela.

She said India was exporting medicines worth $25 billion every year with $14 billion drugs to the US alone. Besides, it is also planning to increase the volume of its medicine export to $55 billion by the year 2020. On the other hand, the export of medicines from Pakistan declined from $200 million in 2013 to $167 million in 2014, she said.

“India, China and Bangladesh are producing 70 per cent of the world’s need of raw material and planning to increase the production to 80 per cent. Foreign pharma companies are having total 2 per cent market share in Bangladesh whereas in Pakistan their share is almost 50 per cent,” she said.

In the letter, the association listed the names of about 50 multinational companies which were doing business in Pakistan but were not producing raw materials locally.

The foreign companies were also not investing on any research and development or community development projects such as hospitals, schools, colleges, roads and clean drinking water in Pakistan. However, India does not allow any foreign company to start business unless it establishes its manufacturing units in the country and spends on research and development and community development projects.

Dr Khalid Bukhari, the country adviser on medicine and health, World Health Organisation (WHO), told Dawn that compared to China and India the cost of production was higher in Pakistan.

“Moreover, the consumption of medicines is so fewer that if a plant of multinational company prepares drugs for a few days it cannot be consumed in a year,” he said.

However, there should be a policy about the import of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) because at the moment companies are exporting raw materials, he said.

“In China, some companies cannot sell raw materials because they are not recognised by the Chinese Federal Drug Authority, but they export raw material to Pakistan,” he said.

When contacted, health minister Saira Afzal Tarar said she had discussed the issue with the officials concerned many times, adding the prices of medicines would decrease if raw materials were produced locally.

“We are trying to get DRAP recognised with the WHO after which we can be able to export medicines to the developed countries. Moreover, we are also considering going for the manufacturing of vaccines,” she said.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2015

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