Political headache in Panadol supply

"Medicines' price is not just a matter between pharmacists and the Drug Regulatory Authority.  It is a political issue as different parties have lobbied to stop price rises in an effort to gain support from the general people"

Running a media house is another name for inviting tasks that cause headaches. You are right: I am talking about my relations with Panadol. In fact, every person, who has the remotest connection with the news industry, becomes a chronic headache patient.

The news of hoarding Panadol is enough to cause a headache or fever to whom the pills may concern. The pill, a household name is the drug of choice for treating the majority of common illnesses in Pakistan, from headaches to fever to physical discomfort. The most well-known brand of medication, “Panadol”, has been in low supply in the nation recently. So, we are living in such times, when one has to visit a couple of pharmacies to get a pack of Panadol.

One of my friends recently called me asking for a reference to get the most sought-after pills. He said that a reference from the health department would help him get the over-the-counter pills. Now, I hear that to ensure that Panadol is available for every one of us, and for dengue and malaria patients, the Punjab health department is getting ready to launch a province-wide crackdown on Panadol hoarders. The duty of overseeing and monitoring the crackdown has been given to the director general of drug control, who will dispatch drug inspectors and other pertinent department personnel around the province. To verify that medicines are supplied at actual costs, they have been instructed to inspect godowns, stores, and other potential locations of the drug markets.

What is the real cause of the shortage of Panadol?

I learned that Panadol’s manufacturer recently stopped making the pills, saying that rising input costs made it unprofitable to continue.

Pharmacists say that Panadol is a brand that holds a monopoly on the market otherwise the formula is available in other names too. It is the forte of the brand that unless we don’t take a Panadol we don’t feel relieved. Many people have mistakenly believed that there is a shortage of medication to treat fever and common pains even though the formula substance is still readily available and is being sold under other names.

This shows the power of the brand.

Why is the government reluctant to resolve the price issue?

The prices of drugs are regulated by Pakistan’s Drug Regulatory Authority. Medicines’ price is not just a matter between pharmacists and the Drug Regulatory Authority.  It is a political issue as different parties have lobbied to stop price rises in an effort to gain support from the general people.

We remember when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government raised the prices of medicines in 2019, it lost public support to such a level that it lost almost all by-elections. Those days the parties which now rule Islamabad and Karachi used to come hard on the government for committing an ‘anti-human crime’ by raising the price of life-saving drugs.

Those days, the ministers and PTI spokespersons used to tell the media and the public that locally, the chemicals needed to manufacture drugs are not produced, and it leaves the business heavily dependent on the import of raw materials. These imports have recently been at risk from depreciating currency rates, global supply constraints, and supply interruptions. As the currency loses its value against the dollar, import costs go up, and in other words, the manufacturers cannot afford to supply the drugs at the rate when the dollar was Rs150 or Rs170. Today, the dollar is Rs240. About tomorrow, I don’t have any educated guess. These imports have been at risk from depreciating currency rates, global supply constraints, and supply interruptions. The government wants to keep Panadol cheap for its political survival, but the general public wants Panadol’s smooth availability.

What’s the solution to the issue?

Not my headache. The government must think about it.

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