AN upward progression in export of pharmaceutical products has been noted in recent years. Reportedly, the country earned US $ 6.60 million in 2001-02 and US $9.05 million in 2002-3 fiscal years from medicine export. The earnings under the same head have been well over 10 million dollars in 2004-5 and larger in the last fiscal year. This is, no doubt, a heartening news in view of the pressing need to diversify export products and earn more from export to shore up the foreign currency reserve.
Trade concessions under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations on trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs) have created vast opportunities for Bangladeshi medicine producers to substantially increase medicine exports from this country until the end of 2016. The export prospects can be realised with the local pharmaceutical companies taking a greater interest in upgrading and adding to their production capacities. However, government policies coming at the right time can be of also much help to this potential sector. One does not find government promotion of it to the degree that is needed for its take-off. If government's policy supports are extended, then the pharmaceutical sector can soon emerge as a very thriving sector tapping the vast international market.
It appears that the government is yet to see the merit of accepting and working on the proposals that have been made to it by the Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (BAPI). The BAPI has demanded cash incentives to export-oriented pharmaceutical industries. Such incentives are being given to other export-oriented sectors and there is no reason for the pharmaceutical industries having export possibilities not to enjoy the same. The other demands are for the establishing of a government-operated central testing laboratory for export- oriented pharmaceutical industries. The laboratory can be very useful in enhancing the reputation of local pharmaceutical products abroad by helping in raising quality and through dependable quality certification. The BAPI has also urged for establishing an active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) plant. Such a plant will help increase the value-addition of local pharmaceutical industries significantly. The government should respond positively to these and other valid suggestions of the BAPI to speed up the development of this very promising sector.
The local drug companies should also pay more attention to quality control for greater success both in local and foreign markets. Allegations continue to be credibly made that some local drug companies are not paying adequate attention to this aspect. Besides, fully fake medicines are also being produced by some spurious companies, which are being marketed. If these practices go on, not only the local medicine companies will lose their reputation in the domestic market, their export prospects will be also threatened. Therefore, these practices need to be immediately monitored by the relevant ministry and penal actions against the offenders should be ensured.
At a recent seminar in Dhaka it was mentioned that Bangladesh produces over 14,000 substances or brands of medicines every year while the three ageing and under-equipped laboratories of the official health authorities have the capacity to examine only 3,000 brands. Thus, over 11,000 brands are arriving in the market without any test for lack of infrastructure that poses serious threat to public health. The seminar also drew attention to how some drug manufacturers are out to make supernormal profits. For example, an antibiotic pill that should not cost more than Taka 2.5 at the retailer's level, considering its production and marketing costs, is found to be selling between Taka 8.0 to 14. All of these harmful developments need to be carefully monitored and corrective steps should be taken at the soonest for the pharmaceutical sector to grow.