Certain life-saving drugs in short supply

Published: August 2, 2019
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LAHORE / MULTAN: Sluggish procedures and inefficiency of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has created shortage of various life-saving drugs in markets across the country, allege pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers.

Representatives of leading pharmaceutical companies on condition of anonymity said that administrative issues and cumbersome registration and approval procedures of the DRAP have made it difficult for pharmaceutical companies to ensure uninterrupted supply of critical life-saving medicines. Thousands of registration cases are pending with the authority but nobody is available to pay attention to the industry’s problems and shortage of medicines in the market.

“The authority is stuck in petty issues and wasting taxpayers’ money. Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry is one of the most regulated sectors in the world where the government not only controls prices but also decides the colours, description, fonts on packaging, type of bottles in case of syrup and blisters in case of tablet strips,” a pharmaceutical manufacturer said.

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“It is very unfortunate that even the industry is not allowed to improve packaging of its products since it has to pass through the same lengthy process spanning over months again to seek the authority’s approval. It is happening because DRAP officials are busy in fixing prices of tablets under Rs1, while gutka, suparies and candies are being sold in markets for Rs3-5 without any regulatory regime,” lamented another pharmaceutical industry representative.

He underlined that undue hassles are created in the industry, even for a minor change in the design of the packing or colour of the pack, industry has to wait for weeks. The authority failed to honour its mandate to regulate and support local pharmaceutical industry in order to ensure availability of life-saving drugs, he maintained.

He highlighted that Pakistan is a $2.2 billion pharmaceutical products market, with meager exports of $211.6, while neighbouring countries, like India and Bangladesh have $30 billion and over $2 billion market size, respectively.

He said that patients and attendants are running from one pharmacy to another to find prescribed medicine. The situation is becoming critical and posing threat to the lives of thousands of patients but regulatory authority is busy in bringing down the price of folic acid tablets from 25 paisas to 16 paisas.

Pharmaceutical companies representatives pointed out that owing to the negligence of regulator, as many as 38 important drugs are in short supply in various markets across Pakistan.

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Pharmaceutical companies’ representatives threatened that the regulator’s umpteen issues are badly hampering production of pharmaceutical companies and compelling them to think about diverting their production facilities elsewhere in the region.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, DRAP Chief Executive Officer Dr Asim Rauf said the authority is being governed through a certain set of laws and regulations. There may be a shortage of some brands’ medicines but the authority ensures their alternatives remain available in the market. He said that the pharmaceutical industry has very stringent regulations everywhere in the world and the DRAP follows suit.

He clarified that as per law, the authority purposefully regulates packaging, colours and design to ensure that consumers do not get confused as misuse of some medicines could be very harmful if not fatal.

Though, the pharmaceutical industry is complaining that the DRAP has its entire focus on medicine pricing, prices of most medicines have already been jacked up by 35-40% during the past six months. In several public hospital, it has become a norm that poor patients’ attendants try to seek help from haves to buy medicine for their patients since the government has badly failed to ensure availability of medicines even for patients in emergency.

Crisis intensifies in Multan

According to details obtained by The Express Tribune, a shortage of life-saving medicines at the Nishtar Hospital, Multan has left many patients in agony and their relatives worried. Reportedly, the hospital has run out of supplies of the medicines.

government hospitals across Multan and now the shortage important medicines is creating an environment of frustration and hopelessness for doctors, patients and their relatives.  Multan Young Doctors Association (YDA) expressed their displeasure over the ongoing crisis and declared that the Nishtar Hospital administration and the provincial government are responsible for the issues.

A patient said that his relatives are compelled to bring expensive goods and medicines from outside due to the non-availability of operation equipment and drugs at the medical facility. “At least drugs were being provided for free in the tenure of the previous government. Now, there is no one to facilitate the hospitals.”  Annoyed by this complicated healthcare system, the relatives of some patients have demanded that the provincial government and prime minister take notice of the situation. Multan YDA officials Dr Khizar Hayat and Dr Faran Aslam said that since life-saving medicines are not available in hospitals, relatives are in distress and quarrelling with doctors who are on duty.

“Failed policies of the provincial government have led to this shortage of medicines. This is also due to the incompetence of the Nishtar Hospital administration.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2019.

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