ISLAMABAD: While stakeholders in the health sector fear that life-saving drugs can vanish from the market due to the trade ban with India, a proposal was on Tuesday floated in a parliamentary committee that there should be a complete ban on Indian medicines and raw material.

“I have credible information that India exports us medicines which are to expire in a few months. I can identify the place in Indian where expiry dates of medicine are changed,” said Senator Rehman Malik during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services (NHS).

Though Mr Malik, a former interior minister, is not a member of the parliamentary committee he was there to get an answer to his question raised in the Senate regarding quality and value of Indian medicines, which was forwarded to the committee by the upper house.

India is perpetrating atrocities on Muslims in occupied Kashmir but we are importing medicines from the country, ex-interior minister says

“India is violating basic human rights in Kashmir and its army is perpetrating atrocities on Muslims in the occupied valley but we are importing medicines from India,” he said.

Through a statutory regulatory order (SRO) dated Aug 9, 2019, the Ministry of Commerce suspended trade with India. Pharmaceutical companies fear that it could lead to a severe crisis of life-saving drugs in Pakistan.

Last week, the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan appealed to the government to exempt from the ban Indian goods that had already arrived in Pakistan before the issuance of the SRO. It also demanded that rules for import of medicines and raw material should be relaxed until alternative source for the import was arranged.

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) has decided to hold a meeting on Wednesday (today) to consider the issue. Representatives from the pharmaceutical industry and other stakeholders would also attend the meeting.

During the meeting of the parliamentary committee, Mr Malik claimed that medicines worth billions of rupees were brought to Pakistan through the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He asked if India could manufacture medicines and export them why not Pakistan.

“On the one hand we are ready for a war with India but on the other we have been giving benefit of billions of rupees to India by importing its goods,” he said.

Mr Malik suggested that every pharmaceutical company should manufacture at least five per cent of its medicines on their own.

“Moreover, it should also be considered that if quality of Indian raw material is verified in Pakistani labs,” he asked.

Committee chairman Mian Mohammad Ateeq Shaikh said the matter would be looked into thoroughly.

Senator Kalsoom Parveen walked out of the committee, saying she had been getting similar answers to her question for the last one decade.

The senator on April 26 had raised the increase in prices of medicine across the country and the matter was referred by Senate to the committee.

“It is strange that medicines having the same formula are being sold at 10 different rates. I have been asking questions for the last one decade but never received satisfactory answers. I am leaving and you can make a report whatever you want,” she said while addressing the chairman.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2019