PATIENTS across the country are facing a growing shortage of various drugs, including life-saving medicines, as pharmaceutical companies have halted or decreased production, because of either the depletion of raw material stocks or the sky-high increase in manufacturing costs in recent months. The government had been warned about the situation by drug makers quite a while back as they struggled to maintain their net income in the face of rapidly rising costs as the price of fuel and transportation skyrocketed in a highly inflationary domestic and global environment. Their troubles increased after the central bank imposed restrictions on the import of ‘luxury’ items, pharmaceutical raw material included, several months ago. Opening a letter of credit for importing active pharmaceutical ingredients has been a nightmare for the industry over the last couple of months as their stocks keep shrinking. Sadly, the government has done little to ease the troubles of the industry in spite of giving commitments to the drug makers.
On Tuesday, industry representatives warned the government that the shortage of life-saving drugs may aggravate further unless the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan allowed a 38.5pc across-the-board hike in drug prices, and the State Bank facilitated the import of raw material for the industry. They have also submitted a list of nearly 1,300 drugs to Drap, conveying that they have stopped their production in the prevailing economic crisis. With over 500 drugs already scarce across the country, the number is feared to go up to 2,500 in the coming days as more companies stop production of medicines due to high costs and raw material shortages. With increasing shortages putting lives at risk, the government’s lack of response to emergency calls from the drug makers is baffling. The situation, which is fast going from bad to worse, demands that the authorities take immediate action to raise prices to incorporate the impact of rapid inflation in the industry’s costs and facilitate it in the import of raw material to overcome the current drug shortage and ensure an uninterrupted supply in the future. For longer-term market stability, it is imperative that the role of Drap be redefined and the focus of the regulator shift from controlling drug pricing to properly regulating the industry and market in order to ensure improvement in product quality and fair competition among the manufacturers.
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2023