The pharmaceutical industry of Pakistan is heading
towards deregulation. The government has set up a committee, comprising
officials of Ministry of Health, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of
Industries, to draft recommendations to deregulate the industry. Trade
sources told PAGE that the committee has made a number of amendments in
the Drug Act 1976 to deregulate the industry.
The question is: would the deregulation benefit a
population in a country reeling from low per capita income and
over-the-counter drug culture? On the other hand, would it satisfy the
demands of an industry clamouring to be tightly regulated not being
allowed to increase the prices despite substantial increase in cost of
While the final draft of the proposals covering all
aspects of drug trade; be it manufacturing, prices, registration,
quality, etc. is yet awaited, reports say the government has got into an
understanding with the pharmaceutical industry to let it fix its own
prices after a year on conditions that it would increase the prices at
An important question that should be asked here is:
Will deregulation encourage the pharmaceutical companies to start
manufacturing and marketing a range of life-saving drugs which many
companies stopped to manufacture due to what they alleged "uneconomic
low prices." Critics of the industry, on the other hand, say that drug
prices in Pakistan are expensive compared to other countries in the
region where the same multinationals are operating.
A prime example of this is a medicine to treat
epilepsy. Market sources told PAGE that the drug is in short supply for
last many years as a number of MNCs ceased to manufacture it altogether.
The drug manufactured under a common name "Phenobarbitone" is also
manufactured by some six local companies which are just not enough to
meet the demand and thus the medicine has remained in perpetual short
supply over the years. But whatever quantity is available still fails to
benefit the patients as only the 1000 tablet bottle of the medicine is
available in the market while 50-tablet bottle is just not available.
The poor epilepsy patients are the worst hit sufferers of this unethical
pressure selling as a vast majority of them just cannot afford to buy
the 1000-tablet bottle.
The acute shortage of this medicine is resulting in
rampant black marketing. The 50-tablet bottle of the drug manufactured
by local companies is available in the market for Rs 35, more than
four-times its original price of Rs 8. The 1000-tablet bottle is selling
for Rs 300 instead of Rs 150.
The similar is the case with a life-saving drug,
Panadura, used in the treatment of infants and adults with hole in their
hearts. This drug is also in short supply for last many years as a
multinational which used to manufacture it does not produce it anymore.
Though the substitute is also made by a number of local companies, the
acute shortage is resulting in rampant blackmarketing — the 6 lac
injection for children that should be retailing for Rs 7 is available in
the market for Rs 100 while the 12 lac injection for adults that should
be sold at Rs 13 is available in the market for Rs 200. Market sources
told PAGE that the medicine is not available even at the highly inflated
prices at present.
Not only a number of essential and life-saving drugs
remain in perpetual short supply forcing the sick to dig deep in their
pockets but the pricing policy pertaining to same drugs also remain
extremely erratic. Look at the case of a product for ulcer treatment.
Losec capsule imported by an MNC from a Swedish company Astra is
available in the market for Rs 688 per 14 tablets. A similar drug
marketed by MNC ICI by the name Etepro 20 mg tablet retails for Rs 420
per 14 tablets. The same drug marketed by another MNC, Merck, by the
name Omolocid 20 mg is available in the market for Rs 189 per 14 tablet.
This ulcer treatment medicine is also manufactured by a number of other
MNCs and local companies and the products of the latter is available for
as little as Rs 100 per 14 tablet.
The wide difference in the price of the similar drugs
for the treatment of the same ailment highlights the need to make
necessary amendments in the pricing formula. It is imperative to amend
the drug pricing policy particularly the necessity, or the lack of it,
to import a costly drug bleeding the national economy when affordable
substitutes are produced by a number of companies within the country.
Sources also told PAGE that the Ministry of Health
seems just not interested to protect the interests of the people.
Instead, they alleged, the Ministry is more interested to protect the
pharmaceutical companies, particularly the influential and affluent MNCs,
at the cost of the people. For instant, they said, the Ministry refuses
to grant registration to new products so that the MNCs would keep
enjoying the monopoly over a certain money-making brands.