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High import duties trigger medicine shortage in Pakistan

Islamabad, July 2, 2022- Pakistan is battling an economic crisis as it struggles to manage depleting foreign reserves, handle the economic meltdown, price hikes and now the re-emergence of coronavirus.

However, the presence of Covid in the country, is thinking that it may just be a perfect time to bring back import duties on various items, used for treatment and protection from the virus, which at the moment is declared as tax free by the government.

Pakistan is currently faced with a nationwide shortage of medicines, including various antipyretics, antihistamines, antibiotics and respiratory agents.

Moreover, equipment including nebulizers, face masks and gloves, used by Covid patients, nurses and doctors are also faced with a massive shortage, leaving the country in a spot of bother as sixth wave of coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

“The shortage of drug like Panadol is likely to disappear from the local markets as the sixth wave matures. A packet of Panadol consisting of 100 tablets is being sold in Karachi’s black market for 425 PKR at the moment. Similarly, Panadol CF, an anti-allergy medicine, is also becoming hard to find,” said Muhammad Atif, President of Wholesale Chemists Association.

“Other than that, common cough syrups, drugs used in tuberculosis treatment, as well as vitamin C supplements that are prescribed to patients recovering from Covid-19, are also disappearing from the market owing to the heavy taxes imposed on them,” he added.

The same shortage is being witnessed in other major cities of the country.

Arshad Momand, President of Peshawar Drug Association said “the difference in supply and demand of coronavirus related medicines has triggered a stock-piling situation, where many pharmacies in Peshawar have allegedly started stocking up on drugs and raising market prices”.

“Currently, there is no check and balance in this regard and profiteers are trying to make the most of this brimming crisis. There is widespread shortage of Panadol and face-masks in Peshawar’s open market, much of which is the doing of local hoarders right under the nose of the region’s drug inspectors.”

Similar reports are also coming in from Lahore and Quetta, implying that the whole country is faced with a severe crisis of medicines, which will become a major challenge as the percentage of the spread of coronavirus infection among the locals is increasing with each passing day.

Local manufacturers argue that the lack of supply of raw materials has affected the production, which is why availability of drugs as per demand is not being met.

“There are some 40 drugs that are short in not just Lahore, but various cities across Punjab due to the surge in federal taxes. In addition to that, the depreciation of the rupee against the dollar and local inflation has also discouraged pharmaceutical companies from importing raw materials that are also subject to higher import levies now. The cumulative burden of this has fallen on the people of Punjab, who are struggling to find life-saving drugs amid a sixth spell of the coronavirus,” said a local pharmacist.

The crisis is a result of major duties of about 80 per cent on essentials items like marks, gloves and nebulizing machines.

“The current government has imposed a jaw-dropping 80 per cent duty on masks, 60 per cent on gloves and 30 per cent on nebulizing machines. Duty on masks and other items related to Covid-19 should be abolished immediately, while the SRO should be re-issued to make these essential items duty free,” said Muhammad Hanif Soomro, an Executive Member of the Healthcare Association of Pakistan.  (Agency)

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