Pakistan Faces Severe Shortage of Essential Medicines

Over 60 essential medicines, including a suicide prevention drug, are now unavailable in local markets because of their increased costs of production.

The situation has left psychiatrists dreading an increased suicide rate in the country. Meanwhile, officials from the local pharmaceutical industry claimed that the missing drugs include those used for the treatment of psychiatric illnesses, neurological disorders (including epilepsy), tuberculosis, anti-depressant medicines, anti-coagulants, painkillers, anti-hypertensive drugs, and several other essential medicines.

A survey of various pharmacies in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad revealed that the drugs for the treatment of epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, depression, cardiovascular diseases, and tuberculosis (TB) were scarce in the market.

Other physicians and pharmacists noted that vital drugs like methylphenidate for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, and Clonazepam drops and tablets for seizures in children and adults are also unavailable.

A renowned psychiatrist and the former President of the Pakistan Psychiatric Society (PPS) stated that “all the brands of Lithium Carbonate are not available in the market for the last two to three months. This is the most effective medicine for the treatment of several psychiatric illnesses including bipolar disorder. If this drug is not made available any soon, many people with psychiatric illness may commit suicide”.

As per the details, the shortage is a result of high production costs of drugs, because of which companies have stopped manufacturing them.

The Chairman of the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association (PPMA), Qazi Mansoor Dilawar, stated that there is a shortage of medicines in the local market because their costs of production had increased to the point where it was impossible for their manufacturers to produce and sell them at a lesser price than the cost of production.

He added that the devaluation of the rupee “is the biggest factor behind the increasing cost of production of many essential medicines. Cost of raw material is increasing while utilities, transportation, and other costs have made it impossible for the pharmaceutical companies to manufacture many essential medicines”.

Dilawar opined that the government has to either increase the prices of medicines by 30 to 40 percent or deregulate the prices, or else the shortage will persist and companies will be forced to stop producing several other medicines.

Conversely, officials at the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) said that only eight medicines were short in supply due to supply chain issues, including issues with the release of the quota of controlled medicines. It added that its committee on the shortage of medicines is working to ensure the availability of these medicines in the market.

One of its senior officials explained, “Due to issues related to release of the quota of controlled medicines and substances, some eight medicines are not available in the market but our officials are working with the ministry of narcotics control and pharmaceutical companies to end their shortage and make them available to people”.

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