Bitter pill: Young pharmacists seek prime minister’s help

Govt asked to allow pharmacists to manufacture drugs locally.

Our Correspondent July 20, 2014


The Pakistan Young Pharmacists’ Association has written to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif requesting amendments to rules to allow pharmacists to manufacture otherwise imported medicines at markedly lower rates.

The letter suggests that the funds allocated for the Prime Minister’s Youth Loan scheme could be better utilised by either building a pharmaceutical manufacturing house or obtaining a contract for manufacturing drugs. The letter includes a list of price differentials between locally manufactured medicines and those sold by multinational corporations.

The letter says there are 61,256 pharmaceutical factories in India. The pharmaceutical industry there not only sells medicines in India but also exports medicines worth $25 billion annually. The letter says India has 150 pharmaceutical factories approved by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States. The rest are one-room factories. India produces 95 per cent of its active pharmaceutical ingredients and houses 4,282 global brands that are also exported to the US. The letter says that the US imports more medicines from India than it does from Europe.

This is the reason why the FDA and the United States Pharmacopeia have opened offices in India, the letter says. “After partition, India has not allowed any multinational pharmaceutical company to import medicines.” MNCs operating in India are told to develop the formulation and manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients within the country. More than 5 per cent of the companies’ revenue is spent on research and development and this condition is implemented in letter and spirit, the letter says. “Multinational pharmaceutical corporations run welfare projects, clean water projects, community education projects, medical colleges, universities and hospitals as well,” the letter says.

The Young Pharmacists Association writes that Bangladesh has four pharmaceutical factories that have been approved by the FDA.

The country sports 36 global brands. It says that Bangladesh does not allow multinational corporations to sell medicines at retail prices higher than that charged by local companies and 94 per cent of the market for medicines was catered to by local firms while MNCs had 6 per cent of the business. The letter says that multinational pharmaceutical corporation are told to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients and the formulation within the country. These MNCs also run several welfare projects in Bangladesh, the letter says.

The situation in Pakistan is different, says the letter. Here, multinational pharmaceutical corporations have never constructed an FDA-approved factory or a factory approved by a European regulatory authority.

In the 1960s, several multinational corporations built factories in Pakistan at a cost of Rs14 billion - $2.8 billion – when the exchange rate was Rs5 to a dollar. Since then, these MNCs have never invested in Pakistan. Some have wrapped up their operations, sold their factories and taken their investment out of Pakistan, the letter says.

The MNCs stopped producing active pharmaceutical ingredients in Pakistan in the 1990s, the letter says, and today the value of these factories is Rs4 billion - $40 million at an exchange rate of Rs100 per dollar today. Not a single active pharmaceutical ingredient is manufactured in Pakistan today, the letter says.

Pharma Bureau Chairman Shahab Rizvi and Pharma Bureau Co-Chairman Arshad Hussain said that multinational pharmaceutical corporations have invested billions of dollars in India, China and Bangladesh over the last two decades in India.

The multinational pharmaceutical companies sell medicines worth Rs135 billion ($1.35 billion) annually in Pakistan. They engage in transfer pricing and take away Rs67 billion annually. The letter says that not only are these MNCs exploiting Pakistan’s poor but they do not export any medicines produced in Pakistan. “They have only increased Pakistan’s trade deficit,” the Young Pharmacists’ Association said.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.


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