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Government discourages API export amid China supply snag

The government has advised the local active pharmaceutical (API) manufacturers not to export the essential products until import of the basic raw materials for medicines resumed fully from the coronavirus-hit China and India.

The Directorate General of Drug Administration has selected a total of 120 essential raw materials of medicines, some of which are related to treatment of symptoms associated with the coronavirus like fever and cold diseases.

No drug has so far been developed worldwide for the treatment of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) that has killed 3,515 people and infected more than 1,02,000 others in 94 countries.

On the other hand, local pharmaceutical product makers have started to look for alternative markets to source APIs as local manufactures can only meet 3-5 per cent of the API demand, following a supply chain disruption from China and India, two of the largest sources of the sector’s raw materials.

Local manufacturers of medicines, however, said that there would be no shortage of raw materials in the next two to three months as most of the companies had enough stocks to sustain the period.

There will be a shortage if the epidemic prolongs and the situation doesn’t improve, they said.

They hoped that the coronavirus outbreak would soon come under control as the rate of contraction had begun to decline in China and the Chinese API manufacturers would resume export within a few days.

Bangladesh depends highly on imports to meet its demand for APIs as the country imports 97 per cent of its annual requirements of the pharma raw materials.

Roughly 60 per cent of the country’s pharmaceutical raw materials come from China while another 30 per cent are imported from India.

Shipments of APIs and other raw materials from China have remained suspended after the outbreak in the Chinese Hubei province, the epicentre of the epidemic.

Hubei is a major centre of production and export of the APIs.

Last week, India, the second largest source of Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical raw materials import, also restricted the export of 26 APIs and formulations made from these APIs, and medicines, including paracetamol, vitamin B1 and B12, amid the virus outbreak.

India is also heavily dependent on imports from China for APIs.

DGDA director general Major General Md Mahbubur Rahman on Saturday told New Age that they had not imposed any ban on the export of APIs.

‘But we have discouraged export of the products right now considering the disruption of the supply of raw materials due to the coronavirus outbreak as it will help, though a little, to tackle the possible shortage on the local market,’ he said.

The DGDA has held several meetings with the stakeholders, including pharmaceutical product manufacturers and API makers to assess the situation, he said.

‘We have found there is sufficient supply of paracetamol and raw materials for other medicines to last another three to five months,’ he said.

Although the Chinese market may reopen within the next few days, local pharma makers are also advised to look for alternative sources of raw materials, he said.

In addition to China and India, Bangladesh also imports APIs from Taiwan, Italy, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries secretary general S M Shafiuzzaman also said that there would be no supply shortage of raw materials for the next two to three months as the companies had an adequate stock of the raw materials for the period.

Some companies have stocks to last up to four to five months, he said.

Hopefully, the situation will become normal by the time, he added.

‘Local manufacturers, however, are assessing alternative sources of suppliers as a precautionary measure if the epidemic prolongs,’ he said.

European countries may be seen as alternative sources although it will be a little bit costlier, he added.

European countries, however, became panic-stricken following India’s decision to restrict export of the products as almost 26 per cent of the demand for APIs in the EU countries was met by the Indian formulations, according to media reports.

S M Saifur Rahman, managing director of Active Fine Chemicals Ltd, one of the major API makers in the country, said that domestic production of APIs accounted for a small proportion of the country’s annual demand.

Bangladesh spent around Tk 5,000 crore on raw material import of APIs in the fiscal year 2018-2019, according to a study of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Local API makers meet a small portion of the domestic demand for APIs while the country also exported the products in small amounts, he said.

Both API makers and drug makers have adequate stocks of raw materials for three to four months, he said.

Though everyone is hopeful that the situation will soon come under control and export from China will resume soon, entrepreneurs are also exploring alternative markets as a precaution, he added.

Bangladesh pharmaceutical products manufacturers will remain safe, in terms of supply of raw materials, at best until May, if the supply chain is disrupted, they said.

It will come as a shock if the epidemic prolongs after that, they added.

Bangladesh exports medicines to over 150 countries and earns around Tk 1,100 crore annually from exports.

The domestic market revenue surpassed Tk 20,000 crore in FY2019 as the local pharmaceutical companies ruled 98 per cent of the domestic market, according to the DCCI. (Source: New Age)

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