THE PAKISTAN DEVELOPMENT REVIEW
Ameliorating Drug Shortages in Pakistan (Policy)
In mid-March 2022, a letter by Pakistan Young Pharmacist Association (PYPA) caught the headline of major newspapers in Pakistan. The letter, written in the context of the prevalent shortage of paracetamol, more or less alleged that the drug manufacturing companies were deliberately causing the shortages. They argued that drug manufacturers wanted to compel customers to buy a higher dose of the said drug (665 mg) since it had a significantly higher price than lower doses.
The letter again brings to light the critical (but lesser discussed) issue of persistent drug shortages in Pakistan. Every year, critically needed drugs tend to vanish off the shelves, to be either found in black or imported to meet shortages (the below table contains a few sample cases of shortages since two decades). Mehmood (2017), 4 after a survey of the major drug markets in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, found that 48 registered drugs were unavailable (drug manufacturers had stopped producing them), while 67 registered brands were experiencing shortages of varying degrees. Drug shortages, however, are not a recent phenomenon; in fact, it goes back to the time of the creation of the country. On 30th March 1954, during the Constituent Assembly session, Mr. Abdul Monem Khan pointed to the severe shortages of medicines in the country. The Health Minister, Mr. Tafazzal Ali, replied that import orders had been placed to ameliorate the shortages. In 1976, Arthur Homer Furnia, a US Health sector specialist, noted the shortages of medicines, especially in government facilities where the trend of siphoning off medicines was common.