Pakistan's pharma industry fears shortage of raw material amid COVID-19 outbreak

Published: March 19, 2020
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File photo illustration of pills of all kinds, shapes and colours. PHOTO: REUTERS

File photo illustration of pills of all kinds, shapes and colours. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: The pharmaceutical industry of Pakistan has voiced fear of a shortage of imported raw material needed for various medicines to combat the threat of coronavirus, due to a lockdown in several foreign countries.

Speaking at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday, Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association (PPMA) Senior Vice Chairman Farooq Bukhari said the country’s pharmaceutical industry was ready to fight coronavirus alongside provincial and federal government, however, it needed relief from the authorities in a bid to function efficiently.

Endorsing his views, PPMA Executive Committee Member Kaiser Waheed said Pakistan had around 770 medicine companies, which were registered with the association.

Speaking to The Express Tribune on the sidelines of the meeting, he said the companies used 1,200 molecules and other active pharmaceutical ingredients to produce 98,000 medical products. He pointed out that the country imported 95% of its raw material from Shanghai and Beijing while the rest came from Japan, Spain and Italy.

“India is also one of the biggest exporters of medicinal raw material, however, both countries have halted trade due to political tension between them,” he said. “Secondly, Delhi has recently banned raw material export out of fear of its scarcity.”

According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the country imported $677 million worth of medicinal products during the first eight months of fiscal year 2019-20 against $743 million in the same period of the previous fiscal year showing a decrease of around 9%.

He added that normally, no company wanted to retain raw material inventory, however, there were some seasonal factors due to which companies imported more than usual during some months.

Commenting on the outbreak of coronavirus in Pakistan, he said these were unusual times as the pandemic had halted economic activity throughout the world hence Pakistan’s pharmaceutical sector was also bearing the brunt.

He underlined that medicinal raw material was not only needed for patients of Covid-19 but also to produce medicines for general diseases.

The official highlighted that input cost of Pakistan pharmaceutical industry had soared over 50% in the past three years due to steep devaluation of rupee against the dollar.

“On the other hand, the industry was only able to hike prices by 15% during this period,” he said.

He urged the government to fix dollar at Rs155 for the next three months to enable the pharmaceutical sector to swiftly combat COVID-19.

Medicinal imports should be given clearance within 24 hours and duties on ports should be discounted for some time, he stressed.

“The government should arrange air-borne cargo through chartered planes,” the official added. 

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2020.

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