Drug prices touching the sky as supplies dry up

Common medication for fever, flu is non-existent at pharmacies, being sold in black for exorbitant rates


Muhammad Ilyas/Tufail Ahmed September 05, 2022
PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE/ KARACHI:

Presently the monsoon flooding does not seem to have an end in sight, which will only result in more lives being upended, further spread of diseases, and an upsurge in demand for medication that is already non-existent in markets of Punjab and Sindh.

Millions of flood victims, who are currently residing in tents, are now falling prey to an array of diseases, which is triggering a drastic increase in demand for drugs like Panadol and Paracetamol. Resultantly, not only have supplies dried up but the prices have shot through the roof. Usman Khan, who has set up a relief camp for flood affectees in Lahore, commenting on the lack of medicines in pharmacies in the city, said that the situation was quite dire.

“I have visited nearly every medical store in Lahore but no one seems to have basic drugs.” Mian Mehmood, owner of a pharmaceutical stores chain in the city, concurring with Khan said that manufacturing companies have dried up supply purposefully. He further informed that medicines are now being sold in the black market for exorbitant rates “just to exploit the present situation.” The same holds true for Karachi, where the shortages have triggered price gouging en-masse. Amir Malik, Vice President of the Wholesale Chemists Council of Pakistan, said, “The price of a box of panadol has increased from Rs 350 to Rs 650 in the wholesale market. Whereas, a large pack of Panadol is not even available for Rs 800 in the black market.”

A market survey carried out by the Express Tribune in both cities revealed that apart from Panadol and Paracetamol, there is a shortage of medicines like ORS, Flagyl, Entamizole, and Ibuprofen which are commonly used for treating viral infections. Furthermore, drugs to help in the treatment of diabetes, heartburn, blood pressure, and hepatitis are also missing from the markets. Professor Jamal Raza, Head of Sindh Institute of Child Health, agreeing with the survey said that patients were suffering and implored the government to take action.

Similarly, citizens like Mohammad Ejaz, who are helping flood affectees, also demanded that the government step in to end the price gouging and artificial shortages. However, a member of the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, talking to the Express Tribune under the condition of anonymity, contended that the shortages were not artificial. “The production cost of medicines has gone up due to the sales tax imposed. Furthermore, due to the dollar rate going up, the import of raw materials has become pricey. Therefore the pharma industry is struggling to meet demand right now,” the member explained.

A spokesperson of the provincial health department in Punjab, when inquired about the price gouging, whilst declining to give his name, said that the prices of drugs fell in the federal government’s domain and there had been no price increase from their side. “As far as we know there is presently no shortage of medication nor has there been any price hikes,” the spokesperson said while talking to The Express Tribune.

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