Expensive Covid-19 treatment

Expensive Covid-19 treatment

Chief Executive Officer of Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has claimed that Remdesivir injection, which has been proved effective against coronavirus, will be available at the Pharmacies of hospitals within the next three weeks. The injection has proven efficacy in stopping the spread of infection of disease to other parts of the patient’s body including kidney and lungs. He told that 14 local firms have been given licenses to produce the drug. However, he did not tell about the source of raw material import as India has stopped the export of raw material for manufacturing pharmaceutical products to its trading partners.

Previously, before the suspension of trade relation in August last year, India was the major raw material provider to Pakistan. Ironically, raw material producing industry could not flourish due to lack of interest of elected governments and death blow given to private sector industries by nationalization policy of 70s. Likewise, Ministry of Health Services did not take any initiative to coordinate with the Ministries of Finance, Industries and Production to implement the provision of health policy of 190 that bounded the multinational and local pharmaceutical firms to set up raw material producing plants.

DRAP’s assurance about the supply of Remdesivir injection to pharmacies of hospitals within next few weeks seems to be a response to the press conference of Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad after his recovery from Covid-19. He regretted of not getting the required injection even at a price of Rs.500, 000. The Minister was hospitalized after tested positive for coronavirus. The drug has been authorized for use, after WHO nod, in the United States (US) European Union countries, Japan and South Korea. 

Gilead Sciences, a research based pharmaceutical company in the US, had signed a deal in May with five Pharmaceutical companies in Pakistan and India to manufacture Remdesivir for marketing in 127 countries. The original producer of the drug has made agreement with companies including Cipla limited, Hetro labs, Mylan and Jubilant Life Sciences of India and Feroz Sons laboratories of Pakistan. How come that DRAP authorized 14 firms to manufacture the drug? Cipla limited and Hetro labs were not sure to produce the product as early in June for sale in local market and export it to other countries. How can it  be manufactured in Pakistan during the current month and supplied to pharmacies in hospitals at affordable price?

Unfortunately, like other natural calamities, coronavirus pandemic was also politicized. Senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal had alleged that PTI government had received kickbacks in the import of medicines from India for the treatment of patients infected by the virus. Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, while debunking the smear campaign of PML-N about the import of finished products from India, did make a demand in a press conference at Karachi Press Club for lifting ban on the import of raw material for manufacturing medicines. Raw material import was also hit when Pakistan severed trade relations with India.

After the imposition of exports restriction on raw material export by Indian government in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, medicines’ manufacturers in Pakistan faced difficulty to acquire the required raw material from a third country that imports the Indian raw material. Who is responsible for developing an economic culture of entire dependence for the import of raw material for the pharmaceutical industry? Why the ministries of Industries, Production, Commerce, Finance, Science and technology and DRAP did not facilitate setting up raw material producing industry? DRAP is playing a discouraging role, if not destructive, in the growth of pharmaceutical industry. For example, it is creating obstacles in making patent and subsequent  commercial production of high quality sanitizer, which is developed by Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, an attach R& D organisation of Ministry of Science and Technology. There is dire need of making the pharmaceutical industry self- reliant in raw material production and making mandatory for the local and multinational companies to establish R&D facilities for their products. It will require appointments of biochemists whereas currently the services of pharmacy graduates are being acquired by the industry.

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