Pakistan’s drug regulatory authority’s controversial pricing policy and the depreciating local currency have led to an acute shortage of imported and life-saving medicines in the debt-ridden country, media reports said on Monday.
Pakistan, currently in the throes of a major economic crisis, is grappling with high external debt and dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
The cataclysmic floods in June last year inundated a third of the country, displaced more than 33 million and caused economic damages to the tune of USD 12.5 billion to Pakistan’s teetering economy.
“Due to the extreme depreciation of Pakistani currency against the dollar and controversial drug pricing policy of the Drug Regulatory 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, was quoted as saying in The News.
Public and private healthcare facilities are facing an acute shortage of imported vaccines, cancer therapies, fertility drugs and anaesthesia gasses after vendors stopped their supplies due to dollar-rupee disparity, according to media reports.
Although most oral medicines, including syrups, tablets and injections are produced locally, Pakistan imports a majority of biological products like vaccines, anti-cancer medicines and therapies from India, China, Russia, European countries as well as the United States and Turkey, Geo TV report said.
“The problem has become acute since DRAP has imposed a three-year restriction to apply under the 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,” Mannan was quoted as saying in the report.
The representative body of drug importers Pakistan Chemists and Druggists Association has urged 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 imported medicines, Geo TV report added.
Pakistan is currently scrambling to boost its dwindling forex reserves, which are estimated to be at USD 4.8 billion after China refinanced USD 500 million last week.
Cash-strapped Pakistan is awaiting a much-needed USD 1.1 billion tranche of funding from the Washington-based global money lender, which was originally due to be disbursed in November last year.
The funds are part of a USD 6.5 billion bailout package the IMF approved in 2019, which analysts say is critical if Pakistan is to avoid defaulting on external debt obligations.