ISLAMABAD, Feb 2: With a hundred people dead and many other victims coming forward, the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) scandal shows no signs of receding. The latest to bear the brunt of the alleged malpractice of the Karachi-based company is the local pharmaceutical industry.
A federal government official told Dawn that the PIC scandal has left several transit exports of drugs stuck at the exit routes to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and even Sudan. “The Afghan authorities are refusing entry of containers carrying locally manufactured drugs,” the federal government official revealed, “while Sri Lanka has refused to accept Pakistani drugs.”
The embassy officials of the Afghanistan embassy and Sri Lankan High Commission were not available for comment.
According to records shared by the federal government official, there are at least 640 registered pharmaceutical companies across Pakistan. “Of these, 60 companies are recognised brands that export medicines globally,” he added.
Khawaja Mohammad Asad, the chairman of the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Association’s (PPMA), told Dawn that the (pharmaceutical) industry has a significant contribution to the export revenue of the country, with exports worth at least $190 million annually.
“The drugs are mostly exported to Africa, Far East and Central Asian Republics as well as Afghanistan. But 60 per cent of the exports are directed to Africa,” said Mr Asad.
He added that exports to Afghanistan from Pakistan amounted to $20 million and this did not include smuggled drugs, while exports to neighbouring country were going up.
“The medicines produced in Pakistan have a good reputation because of the high quality as well as our insistence on following international standards. There is no doubt that the PIC drug scandal has negatively affected our businesses. Our payments are likely to be stuck in these countries where we had major pharmaceutical export shares,” he complained.
When asked for his opinion over the drugs scandal, he replied: “We have voiced our concerns over the deaths and have shown our sympathies for the families affected. However, the constant negative portrayal of drugs manufactured locally is damaging our clientele.”
Mr Asad added that given the Karachi-based pharmaceutical company that has been implicated is a leading exporter and has an annual export running into millions, it has jolted the rest of the industry.
And the fallout is already being felt: “Queries are coming in from different countries including Sri Lanka and Australia with their officials voicing concerns over the quality. At least two African countries have lodged queries about medicines imported from Pakistan,” revealed Mr Asad.
Mr Asad said that Pakistani companies would lose their export business and market share since a World Health Organisation advisory over Pakistan's drugs: “The WHO has advised different countries to look into the quality of drugs imported from Pakistan,” he said.