Monday Mar 27, 2023
By |

Pakistan runs short of life-saving drugs on weak rupee, controversial pricing policy

A representational image of medicines. — AFP/File
A representational image of medicines. — AFP/File 

  • Both public, private healthcare facilities face drug shortages.
  • Most important drug not being supplied to hospitals is Heparin.
  • DRAP allowed import of medicines when dollar was at Rs190.

KARACHI: The pricing policy of the Drug Regularity Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) and the depreciating rupee have caused an extreme shortage of most imported and critical medicines in Pakistan, The News reported Monday citing a pharmacist. 

“Due to the extreme depreciation of Pakistani currency against the dollar and controversial drug pricing policy of Drug Regularity Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), their prices have risen manifold and it has become economically unviable for importers to bring them on the existing prices given by the DRAP,” Abdul Mannan, a pharmacist and importer of biological products, told The News.

Both public and private healthcare facilities are facing a shortage of imported vaccines, cancer therapies, fertility drugs and anaesthesia gasses after vendors stopped their supplies due to dollar-rupee disparity, medicines suppliers and officials said. 

At the moment, the most important drug which is not being supplied to health facilities is Heparin, which is a blood-thinning agent used after some cardiovascular procedures. Similarly, some important anaesthetic gasses like isoflurane, sevoflurane as well as monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of different types of cancers as well as fertility products like human chronic gonadotropin (HCG) and human menopausal gonadotropin (HMG) are also not being provided to health facilities due to dollar-rupee disparity and pricing policy of the DRAP, they added.

Although most of the oral medicines including syrups, tablets and injections are produced locally, Pakistan imports most of the biological products including all vaccines, anti-cancer medicines and therapies, hormones, fertility medicines as well as other products from India, China, Russia, European countries as well as the United States and Turkey.

Urging the government to immediately review the Drug Pricing Policy 2018 of DRAP, which allows an increase in the prices under the hardship category, Mannan maintained that DRAP allowed the import of medicines when the dollar was available at Rs190 but now it had gone upto to Rs285 while in the local market, the dollar is being traded at Rs300.

"The problem has become acute since DRAP has imposed a three-year restriction to apply under hardship category under Drug Pricing Policy 2018. It means that if a drug comes under the hardship category due to increased import price, the importer can apply only once in three years for price adjustment,” he said. He added that due to the constant depreciation of the rupee, prices of imported medical products had become irrelevant and unviable for the importers.

This has caused “an extreme shortage of imported biological products, anaesthetic gasses, fertility drugs, immunosuppressants used in organ transplants and others, he added.

The representative body of drug importers Pakistan Chemists and Druggists Association (PCDA) has also urged the DRAP authorities to review the cap of three years on hardship cases, in accordance with the amended 2018 pricing policy, saying due to dollar-disparity, they were unable to supply the imported medicines. 

“If these issues are not resolved immediately, especially the rules regarding hardship cases are not amended, there would be an extreme shortage of imported medical products, which would result in serious health consequences in the country,” Asim Jamil, PCDA General Secretary, said.

The DRAP officials said their policy board, which met on Friday with the federal secretary of health in the chair and attended by representatives from all four provinces and the private sector, has prepared some recommendations regarding locally produced and imported medicines, which would be sent to the federal cabinet for implementation. 

“DRAP’s policy board has taken some unanimous decisions which include adjusting the prices of medicines in accordance with hyperinflation. These recommendations are being forwarded to the federal cabinet through the Ministry of National Health Services for implementation,” a member of the policy board said.