KATHMANDU: Despite tremendous potential in terms of growth and expansion, Nepal’s pharmaceutical industry is plagued by the lack of skilled manpower and inadequate support from the government, stakeholders claim.
A new industry with a history of just over three decades in Nepal, it now holds 40 per cent market share when compared to imported drugs, claims Mahesh Gorkhali, president of the Association of Pharmaceutical Producers of Nepal (APPON). “Initially Indian companies dominated the market; but there has been an impressive growth in the Nepali pharmaceutical industry and it has wide room for expansion,” says a confident Gorkhali. APPON records reveal that total of 45 companies churn out allopathic medicines in the country.
However, Gorkhali is quick to point out obstacles that the industry faces. As with any other industry, poor power supply poses a hindrance in manufacturing. Moreover the lack of manpower is a serious challenge.
Though the country today has many graduates in the sector and pharmaceutical institutes, the industry still faces a dearth of skilled manpower. “Highly skilled manpower is always a problem. Fresh graduates enter a company and work for a few years only to head overseas,” says Prabhat Saakha, chairman of Chemidrug Industries Pvt Ltd, expressing concern over the trend among youngsters heading abroad for studies and employment.
According to Gorkhali, though major pharmaceutical production centres are located in places like Birgunj, Nepalgunj, Bhairahawa, et cetera, highly skilled manpower required by the industry do not want to work outside Kathmandu. To top it all, Nepal’s drug industry is entirely dependent on the
import of raw materials. Drug producers in Nepal believe that the industry has huge potential for growth if facilitated by the government. Besides manpower and raw materials, a huge chunk of investment in this sensitive industry goes to laboratory equipments. Manufacturers demand that the government offer some tax exemption on the import of lab equipment as higher costs make the industry non-invention oriented. Nepal’s pharmaceutical producers merely copy patent drugs.
Drug manufacturers also complain that illegal entry of unregistered drugs through porous Indian borders is having an adverse impact on their business. They inform that they are unable to compete with giant Indian companies that invest hugely on the marketing front through bonus and incentives. According to Saakha, it is hard even to operate the legal influx of Indian drugs in the Nepali market. “Many Nepali drug companies operate at half of their installed capacity, as Indian companies supply the same products in Nepal at cheaper prices,” he says.
Whereas Indian companies can easily export drugs to Nepal, the export from Nepal is a huge nuisance, according to Umesh Lal Shrestha, APPON’s immediate past president. “If a Nepali drug company wants to export drugs to India, every batch of its products must be tested at the Indian government labs. The test report is only issued after months, thereby shortening the expiry date of drugs. Because of this, buyers tend to reject or cancel the order,” he says, adding that Nepal government should also impose similar restrictions on the import of Indian drugs.
Responding to a query over Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), Shrestha explains that almost all pharmaceutical industries in the country abide by GMP under Nepali law. “Many companies are upgrading themselves up to GMP standards prescribed by WHO,” he informs. Drug manufacturers also demand that the government facilitate domestic products at state run as well as private hospitals of the country.
A major part of the problem with pharmaceutical companies in the country rests with promotion and marketing. Stakeholders state that besides focusing on quality, they also need to invest on promotion and strategies. Almost all drug companies in Nepal produce drugs for acute (short course) diseases such as diarrhoea, cough, high fever, et cetera. According to those in the know, they should instead focus on producing drugs for chronic (life-long) disease segment such as cancer and diabetes for better results. The government also needs to encourage the industry so that it can reach for new segments and manifold products through attractive policies and regulations.