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Pharma industry in South Asian nations: A holistic view

Ravi Shet
Thursday, January 7, 2021, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Are South Asian nations ready for a big jump in pharmaceutical industry? Can South Asia region be considered as a powerhouse in pharmaceutical industry? Especially, with COVID-19 cases all over the globe which started from last year, countries in South Asia region have come under the global radar. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the countries that consist of South Asia region. Pharmaceutical resources associated in this region ramped up their production of materials to combat the pandemic, despite having major challenges in a few countries.

For pharmaceutical industry, a lot of opportunities are coming up in the form of growing healthcare expenditures as well as new challenges and complexities. In the recent years, South Asian economies showed strong GDP growth; however, in 2019 it ended up being lower than expected. The risk profile for most South Asian countries is assessed to be low, as they are commodity importing and their growth is predicted to be driven by domestic demand. Risk primarily remains dependent on domestic factors and can be alleviated at the individual level in an appropriate manner.

Let’s take a holistic view of each of these countries in South Asia to get a reality check of their impact on domestic as well as global pharmaceutical industry.
Due to pressing security risks and political tensions, it has one of the lowest growth rates of all South Asian countries, at less than three per cent. In 2017, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) had launched a 12-week campaign against counterfeit and substandard medicine. The licenses of more than 900 local and foreign pharmaceutical importing companies were suspended, while 100 tons of counterfeit, expired and low-quality medicines were seized from pharmacies.
Due to pandemic, when most of the industries in Bangladesh witnessed drastic fall in profits in the last year, pharmaceuticals industry was an exception. It achieved around 15 per cent growth which was significant boost to their economy. In recent times, local pharmaceutical companies have emerged as a game-changer by contributing approximately 90 per cent of the overall available medicines in the market. Rise in life expectancy, population growth, lifestyle changes, growing per capita income and changing disease profile are some of the important factors that are boosting consumption in the local market.

Bangladesh is currently exporting medicines to 145 countries, including a few highly regulated markets such as the European Union and Australia.
The Government of Bhutan has been among the most dynamic in South Asia in terms of introducing reforms and simplifying the procedures necessary for business establishment. Bolstered by increased foreign investments due to relaxed FDI regulations in 2015, now pharmaceutical sector is set to mushroom over the region.
The well-formulated “Make In India” campaign has started supporting local manufacturers and attracted multinational corporations and even nations to set up manufacturing facilities in India across different industry and services sectors. Being largest provider of generic drugs globally, Indian pharmaceutical sector supplies over 50 per cent of global demand for various vaccines, 40 per cent of generic demand in the US and 25 per cent of all medicine in the UK. By 2025, Indian pharmaceutical sector is expected to grow to US$ 100 billion.

The Government of India has taken several steps to decrease costs and bring down healthcare expenses. Speedy introduction of generic drugs into the market has remained in focus and is expected to benefit the Indian pharmaceutical companies. In addition, the thrust on rural health programmes, lifesaving drugs and preventive vaccines also predicts well for the pharmaceutical companies. With the packages and policies rolled out by the government and to leverage the talent pool available in the country, India will be growing exponentially in this sector by catering domestic as well as international demand to be in a commanding and leadership position.

Due to ongoing economic weakness, restrictions in healthcare funds have been clearly evident and that has affected pharmaceutical market growth. The market has been on a low growth trajectory. With government’s commitment to improve health services in the country, pharmaceutical imports will be increased.
The role of pharmaceutical industry is invaluable for economic revolution of the country. Pharmaceutical market is less regulated in Nepal. Department of Drug Administration (DDA) has crunch in resource and tools to monitor quality of drugs. For last seven to eight years, the market share of Nepali medicines has been limited to 40 to 45 per cent. Local manufacturers are expanding their hold in the market; however, the hold of foreign drug companies seems to be strong. Creating transparent environment as well as addressing the needs of pharmaceutical sector will help local manufacturers to expand their hold in the country.
Although, it’s considerable longer-term potential based on the large and growing population and the strong potential for healthcare infrastructure and services growth, Pakistan is not a priority target for multinational pharmaceutical companies. It has a low R&D expenditure of about one per cent of sales. Presence of counterfeits and the blurred prescription and OTC medicine distinction along with negative price pressures are the main hurdles for the growth of pharmaceutical industry in the country. To add further, increased costs of manpower and energy along with high cost of raw materials import have worsened the situation.u

(The author is clinical data management professional)


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