High import duties lead to drug shortages in Pakistan amid possible sixth wave of COVID

As the Pakistani government reinstates import duties on various medical items used for the treatment and protection of Covid-19, the country is facing a shortage of medicines, leaving citizens on edge amid a possible sixth wave of coronavirus infections, according to a media report on Saturday.

Pakistan over the past few weeks has seen an increase in coronavirus cases, a grim reminder for the country that its battle against the pandemic is still far from over.

The government, faced with a severe economic crisis and depleted foreign exchange reserves, reinstated import duties, which had previously been declared tax-free by the previous Pakistani government Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), on equipment such as nebulizers, face masks and gloves, The Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The shortage of items was confirmed by Wholesale Chemists Association President Muhammad Atif, who specifically mentioned the drug Panadol, saying it was likely to disappear from local markets as the sixth wave matured.

A pack of Panadol consisting of 100 tablets is currently being sold in black markets in Karachi for Rs 425. Similarly, Panadol CF, an anti-allergy drug, is also becoming hard to find,” Muhammad Atif said.

“Apart from this, common cough syrups, drugs used in the treatment of tuberculosis, as well as vitamin C supplements which are prescribed to patients recovering from Covid-19, are also disappearing from the market due to the heavy taxes imposed on them,” he said.

Peshawar Drug Association President Arshad Momand also highlighted the shortage of drugs in his area.

The discrepancy between supply and demand for coronavirus-related drugs has triggered a stockpiling situation, where many pharmacies in Peshawar have reportedly started stocking up on drugs and increasing market prices, which is aggravating the existing crisis, did he declare.

Currently, there are no checks and balances in this regard and profiteers are trying to make the most of this overflowing crisis. There is a widespread shortage of Panadol and face masks in the open market in Peshawar, much of it by local hoarders right under the noses of the region’s drug inspectors,” he told the newspaper. .

Reports of a similar situation have also come from Lahore, where raw material supply shortages have affected the production of local pharmaceutical companies.

According to a survey of local pharmacies, the city is facing a growing crisis in drug availability, while pharmacies have also started raising drug prices citing wide gaps between supply and demand.

The survey revealed that like Karachi and Peshawar, Lahore is also currently short of Panadol, a popular antipyretic drug, in addition to drugs used to regulate blood pressure, treat diabetes, the effects of hepatitis and soothe stomach pains.

“There are around 40 medicines that are in short supply not only in Lahore but in various cities in Punjab due to increased federal taxes,” a Lahore pharmacy owner commented on condition of anonymity.

The woes have intensified due to the depreciation of the rupee against the dollar and local inflation which has discouraged pharmaceutical companies from importing raw materials which are also subject to higher import levies.

The cumulative burden of this has fallen on the people of Punjab, who are struggling to find life-saving medicine amid a sixth bout of coronavirus, the pharmacy owner said.

During the first wave of COVID-19, the ousted government of Imran Khan removed import duties on 61 items needed for coronavirus prevention and treatment, including disposable items such as masks, gloves and nebulizers.

The former government had also issued a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) stating that all equipment used for the treatment of COVID-19 would be kept duty free until 2021.

Subsequently, in January 2022, the ORS was withdrawn and the duty was reinstated on the 61 items, which also affected the import of these items and the products gradually ceased to arrive from neighboring China, which had been one of the largest suppliers of items related to coronavirus treatment and care.

During the first wave of the pandemic in 2021, Pakistan had to order over 50 million masks to meet local demand for PPE.

However, at present, with imports affected and a virus surge on the horizon, the country is once again on the brink of a face mask crisis, which could potentially catalyze the spread of the virus.

Muhammad Hanif Soomro, a member of the executive committee of the Healthcare Association of Pakistan, lamenting the withdrawal of ORS from January 2022, said the current government had imposed a jaw-dropping 80% tax on masks, 60 % on gloves and 30% on nebulizers.

He said the duty on masks and other Covid-19 related items should be abolished immediately, while the SRO should be reissued to make these essential items duty free.

Covid-19 is on the rise again, and these 61 items will soon be more than a necessity, so the government should act before it is too late and there is widespread panic, he said at The Express Tribune.

The latest development comes as around 100 essential items ranging from flour to fuel and housing to healthcare have collectively become 21.3% expensive for Pakistani citizens over the past year, according to data from the consumer price index compiled and published by Pakistan Bureau. of Statistics.

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