Life-saving drug shortage looms

Kathmandu, February 25

The medicine shortage that India has been facing is likely to hit the domestic market, especially that of life-saving drugs that are mostly used in emergency wards and intensive care units.

India is the largest drug supplier to Nepal. However, India itself is facing a shortage of raw materials supplied from China because the latter is struggling to revive manufacturing amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“If India continues to face a shortage, it will definitely hit our market,” said Mrigendra Meher Shrestha, president of Nepal Chemist and Druggist Association. According to Shrestha, stockists usually import life-saving drugs to meet the demand for a month-and-a-half. “At the moment we have enough stock to last a month,” he said. “Orders placed this month are yet to be delivered.”

Analgesic (painkiller), bronchodilator (to increase airflow to lungs), diuretics (to increase amount of water and salt in the body), intravenous antibiotics, hydrocort injection (to reduce inflammation), atropine (to treat eye swelling), adrenaline (to treat very serious allergic reactions), calcium gluconate (to treat conditions arising from calcium deficiencies), midazolam and vecuronium (used before surgery), noradrenaline (to treat low-blood pressure) and dextrose (form of glucose) are some of the life-saving drugs. Shrestha said Nepal annually imported life-saving drugs worth around Rs 45 billion.

He added that importing such drugs from third countries was not viable due to the lengthy process and costly transportation charges involved. “The government needs to formulate plans immediately to deal with the situation if we face medicine shortage,” he reiterated. “It is always good to be prepared for any untoward incident,” said Dr Kedar Century, director of Bir Hospital.

Shrestha said India had been increasing the price of such drugs. “Importers are ready to import medicines at a high price, but will consumers be able to pay?” he wondered, adding that the government should provide subsidies so that the additional cost does not trickle down to consumers.

The Association of Pharmaceutical Producers of Nepal stated that India had hiked prices of raw materials required to produce medicines, as it itself was facing a shortage. “India has hiked prices by up to 50 per cent of every raw material. Moreover, they are not delivering our consignments as per our demand,” said Santosh Baral, vice-president of APPON. According to the association, the country has stock that is enough for three months.

The Department of Drug Administration has requested drug manufacturers and importers to compile details of stock of drugs and raw materials, said Narayan Prasad Dhakal, director general of DDA. He, however, claimed that the country would not face any drug shortage. “Even if we have to buy such drugs at a high price, we will make sure that the end consumer receives them at a subsidised rate,” he added.