Aug 10 - 16, 2009

Pharmaceutical industry plays a vital role in addressing the health issues of the masses of the country. It serves the cause of human health and contributes significantly towards the economic building of the country. Role of pharmaceutical industry cannot be negated in the country, where health issues are often affected by diverse cultural requirements, preconceived notions, home remedies etc.

In terms of revenue collection and employment, it is preceded by none other than textile sector in Pakistan and as far as health issues are concerned, about 90% of different medicines consumed in Pakistan are being processed or manufactured in the country.

Pakistanis are spending 77 per cent of their healthcare budgets on buying medicines. The country's total medicine market is about USD1.9 billion with 386 pharmaceutical companies i.e. National 356 (Punjab 204), (Sindh 92), (NWFP 50), (Balochistan 7 & AJK 3)), and multinational 30 (Punjab 5, Sindh 23, NWFP nil, Balochistan 2 & AJK nil). They are engaged in manufacturing varieties of medicines for the healthcare of millions of Pakistani.

There are more than 65000 pharmacies selling different types of medicines to patients in the urban as well as rural areas of the country.

Pakistan's per capita spending on medicine is only Rs.500, which amounts to about 1% of per capita income. The industry is a major provider of jobs to over 75,000 personnel and twice as many in the marketing, distribution and allied fields. It has become a major player in the national economic development. The pharmaceutical industry is expanding at the rate of 20% annually, but half of the population has no access to modern medicines.

Pakistan that is rich in many natural resources may easily be used for production of pharmaceutical raw materials both for domestic consumption and for export markets. It has been observed that the prices of medicines are very high in the country.

To promote sale of their medicines, pharmaceutical manufacturers or traders who import medicines from outside the country please doctors and make lucrative offers for prescribing their products to the patients.

The favors that are normally doled out to medical practitioners by pharmaceutical companies include foreign trips with family, costly gifts like watches, mobile phones and cars, furnishing of clinics and share in sale products.

More than 50 per cent of the doctors are involved, knowingly or unknowingly in a manner that lacks proprietary through commissions and other pay offs. Companies spend lavishly on conferences, seminars and symposia in order to market their products renowned. Subsequently, all costs submerge in the end prices of increase of medicines.

Doctors are equally responsible of surging medicines prices. The medical stores sell what the medical doctors write in the prescriptions for the patients.

Ministry of health is the supreme authority in the country for setting prices of all kinds of medicines. Pakistan has attained a high degree of self-sufficiency in the formulation and packaging of finished pharmaceutical products, but the basic manufacturing of ingredients is very small.

About 95 per cent of basic raw materials are imported from various foreign countries such as China, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands etc. However, a few firms are now engaged in producing the raw materials locally. China has long been a cost effective supplier of medical ingredients for pharmaceutical industry in the country.

Pakistan's health sector is undeniably a victim of poor governance. The expenditure on medical side is 0.57 per cent of GDP against 8 per cent average of OECD countries with 15.7 per cent of US, 6.4 per cent Cuba, and 8.3 per cent UK.

In many developing countries the health ratio stands at 5 per cent of GDP. Despite tall claims in the recent Economic Survey of Pakistan regarding improved health services, the picture is not too promising. For an estimated population of 175 million, the existing network of medical services consists of just 948 hospitals, 4794 dispensaries, 5310 BHUs, 561 RHCs and the availability of 103,037 hospitals.

The conditions of government hospitals are deplorable. Standards of treatments are pathetic.

Pakistan needs to develop capacity for the essential ingredients especially where local resources are available. The key action plans for the development sector include: introduction of diploma course in pharmacy technology, in the faculties of pharmacy; establishment in each province of a fully equipped laboratory to undertake basic research in the field of pharmaceutical drugs and medicine for diseases prevention; establishment of research and development centers in pharmaceutical and drugs discovery and experimental therapeutics; establishment of testing/certifying laboratories for fabrication and manufacturing of basic equipment required in pharmaceutical industry.

Pakistan is among the major exporters of raw herbs and medicinal plants. However, most of these medicinal plants are exported without any quality check, and even at very low prices.

Indeed serious efforts are required to build up the pharmaceutical industry as an important source of export earnings. Production of photochemical drugs such as opium derivatives, morphine, and resourceful plants need to be cultivated and standardized on scientific grounds. A meaningful stress is also required on the work of Unani medicines on the basis of work done in foreign countries such as China and India.

Health is a basic human right and should be provided honestly. The life saving profession of health service has been fraught with the inhumane commercial motives. The healthcare system in the country is plagued with numerous problems which are caused by factors like scarcity of resources, inefficiency, and lack of accessibility.

Some of the specific reasons are low spending in health sector, access to health service, ineffective delivery of services, improper utilization of funds, poverty, lack of resource, corruption, incidence of non-communicable diseases. Due to poor economic conditions and lack of attention by the authorities, infectious diseases and fatal diseases are rampant throughout the countries. Cholera, Dengue fever, bird flu, typhoid, cancers, diabetes, kidney diseases, Hepatitis A,B,C etc are very common.

Health in the modern era is both a sensitive as well as a complex issue. Peoples hardly have access to healthcare services.

Ministry of health should pay heed to suggestions which are in favor of masses and must put at right anomalies of price structure of pharmaceutical industry. There should be more facilities for the patients instead of charging extra fees for the outdoors treatments. To provide facilities to patients in the hospitals and clinics is a noble act of kindness.