Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association Chairman M Haroon Qassim. PHOTO: FILE
KARACHI: The business of fake medicines has continued to flourish without any significant check, posing a threat to lives of people and eating into the earnings of pharmaceutical companies. To tackle the production and supply of such drugs, a top official of the pharmaceutical industry considers the government’s role quite important.
In an interview with The Express Tribune, Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PPMA) Chairman M Haroon Qassim stressed that the government should spring into action against substandard drug suppliers. He said pharmaceutical manufacturers, on their part, have taken steps to expose fake companies and have also complained to the health ministry, in response to which it has taken some action.
“We can only identify the culprits, but we cannot conduct raids. The mafia behind the fake medicine business can only be challenged by the government,” he said and stressed the need for concentrated efforts to check the spread of the illegal business.
However, he clarified “no member of my association is involved in producing fake medicines. All our members are licensed manufacturers with big investments in the industry so why would somebody take a licence to produce fake products?”
Genuine manufacturers are compelled to regularly change packaging to discourage the copying of their products, but that increases the cost of doing business, said Qassim, who is also the managing director of PharmEvo Limited.
Continuous increase in drug prices
Like other pharmaceutical industry representatives, Qassim was of the view that drug prices have not been increased as per the demand of the industry and medicines are still cheap compared to the costs incurred on manufacturing them. He brushed aside the perception of unregulated increases in prices, saying price regulation in the country is ‘unambiguous’.
“There has only been a three per cent rise in drug prices over the last 10 years,” he said, but added prices of some medicines may have increased more than 20 per cent.
According to a research, average medicine cost in overall medical-related expenditure accounts for only 15 per cent while the remaining constitutes the fee of physicians and other charges. “Pharmaceutical industry is already regulated and steps should be taken to regulate the unregulated medical sector.”
He said increase in competition and cost of manufacturing has cut into the profit margins of the industry over the last 20 years.
Philippines prefers Pakistan’s medicines
Discussing medicine exports, Qassim said that Pakistan exports medicines worth only $164 million per annum compared to India which exports over $20 billion worth of medicines and sought government’s support to boost exports. However, he boasted of the good quality of medicines made in Pakistan which are exported to over 60 countries.
Pakistan produces cheap and high-quality medicines, which is highlighted by the fact that the Philippines House of Representatives has passed a resolution asking the government to import medicines from Pakistan, he said.
Qassim called for establishing a Drug Regulation Authority (DRA) at federal level and said that after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which shifted some powers to provinces, it is not clear whether the Centre or provinces would be regulating the pharmaceutical industry.
If provinces regulate the industry, problems like pricing, uniform quality control, licences for import and export and registration of drugs will emerge, as every province will have its own standards. All these issues can be handled by a single authority at the federal level which is the case in other countries.