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EDITORIAL: Authorities have been ignoring the pharmaceutical sector’s pleas for a price deregulation policy even as both locally produced and imported medicines have been disappearing from the market because of runaway production costs and the growing rupee-dollar disparity.

Surely, in their attempt to avoid bad optics that would follow deregulation and steep price increases, they must have realised by now that the only choice they face is between cheaper but often unavailable medicines, including crucial life-saving drugs, and more expensive but readily available ones.

It’s important to realise that this isn’t one of those matters where the government or consumers can afford to kick the can any further down the road. Already local companies are running into huge losses, forcing many to shut down altogether, and foreign brands are also packing up and leaving because of high input costs and a very producer-unfriendly set of government policies for the sector.

It says a lot that the world’s largest insulin manufacturer has just exited Pakistan because of financial losses even though the country boasts the world’s third largest number of patients suffering from diabetes.

All this came out, once again, at an open house session as part of a mid-summer conference of the Pakistan Society of Internal Medicine (PSIM), where industry leaders pointed out that forcing prices down in times of very high inflation and a collapsing rupee is not just bad for producers and the industry as a whole, it is also devastating for patients who face empty shelves at pharmacies. Unlike other commodities, which can be rationed at crunch time, use of medicines, especially life-saving ones, cannot and must not be curtailed.

It’s also ultimately bad for governments obsessed with their image. Because situations like the one Pakistani patients find themselves in force them into the black market, where they burn hard-earned money to buy smuggled medicines at many times the price. Surely, it is the responsibility of relevant authorities to make sure all medicines are always available and if people can be made to understand the reasons for high electricity, gas and fuel prices, among a lot of other things, they can be made to swallow expensive, but available, medicines as well.

All this is not to advocate high prices for no reason; just that the government should know when it has no choice but to bite the bullet. Speakers also rightly suggested that Pakistan should follow the example of India and Bangladesh, where prices of only 150-300 medicines are regulated. The government also needs to consider that deregulating the pharma market is not really the least bad option, but a good one in the long run because it allows demand and supply dynamics to determine prices instead of committees within committees that run on politically-driven official diktat.

This is not one of those matters where authorities have the luxury of time as they come to a final decision. It’s already been left unaddressed long enough, pushing the entire industry into needless decline. It wasn’t too long ago when the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) administration floated the idea of turning the pharma sector into a major export earner for the exchequer. Now, if something isn’t done quickly, there’ll be a rush to save it from collapsing.

It’s a shame that political expediency often forces our democratic governments to frame policies that are bad for the people – in this case not frame policies that would ultimately benefit people – just because they need to look good in the headlines in the present, not some distant future when long- term policies bear fruit.

The present circumstances, however, call for deregulating the pharmaceutical sector with strict monitoring to address shortage of all medicines as soon as possible.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Comments

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Tariq Qurashi Oct 09, 2023 12:34pm
WHO has an essential drugs list. Prices should be controlled only for drugs on this list. Even with these drugs, the prices should be reviewed on a quarterly basis, given the volatility of the dollar and its effect on the price of raw materials. Any slackness on the part of the government will lead to a shortage of critical medicines. In this situation the government cannot waste time the way it usually does, or it will cause a disaster.
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Obaid Ali Oct 09, 2023 02:06pm
Would it not be good to have an open discussion, so one can understand what is wrong and how much dishonesty prevails in industry by and large. Regards
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SantaC Oct 09, 2023 02:18pm
The problem is the memos approach!
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Faraz Oct 09, 2023 04:24pm
Hmmm
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Abhishek Srivastava Oct 09, 2023 08:59pm
Only online current medicine stores.
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Awami Oct 13, 2023 03:27am
A Diabetic person needs insulin. Recently major international company making Insulin closed. Basically even middle class person needing insulin, is doomed due to black market prices.
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