Bangladesh's poor benefiting from domestically produced medication

Xinhua News Agency


It took less than half a U.S. dollar for Rahman Miah to buy two bottles of syrup for his son who had been coughing for several days.

For rickshaw puller Miah, it was not at all burdensome to expend 40 taka from his daily income which is around six U.S. dollars.

Kafil Uddin, meanwhile, a day laborer, bought some nasal drops to alleviate his kid's blocked nose.

"My child suffers from a blocked nose at night. So I'm buying a nasal drop. As it's not too expensive, I'm buying this."

Both Miah and Uddin bought the basic medication from a drug store in Dhaka's downtown Malibagh area on Monday morning.

People from less affluent section of Bangladesh society can also afford to buy basic medicines.

Jabbar Ahmed, a salesman at the drug store, said decades back only affluent Bangladesh people could buy basic medicines.

Now people from both affluent and less affluent sections of society can buy medicines because they can afford to do so.

Another drug store owner, Md. Kamaruzzaman said that during the 1970s and 1980s a large number of Bangladesh people could not even afford to buy essential medicines.

"Now you see that even ultra poor people come to buy basic medicines," said Md. Kamaruzzaman who has been selling drugs since 1985.

Abdul Muktadir, chairman of Bangladesh's second largest pharmaceutical company, Incepta, said, "Everybody benefits from the high quality of local medicines at affordable prices."

"Medicine is now one of the cheapest commodities in Bangladesh, " he said.

After 1971 when Bangladesh became independent, the sector was prominently dominated by multinational companies.

But the sector started to improve from the 1980s and has grown in the last decades at a considerable rate to become the second largest potential sector of Bangladesh and a white-collar intensive employment sector.

Muktadir said Bangladesh manufacturers provide some 97 percent of the total medicinal requirement of the local market.

"We export a wide range of pharmaceutical products to over 107 countries," said Muktadir, also former secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceuticals Industries (BAPI) which was established in 1972 with 23 member pharmaceutical companies.

And today, BAPI has as good as 232 pharmaceutical companies as its members.

"Though we still have to import some medicines, although not more than 3 percent of our demand, in the near future the local pharmaceutical companies will be ready to fulfill 100 percent of local demand," Muktadir said.

With an annual two-digit growth rate, he said, Bangladesh's about 2 billion U.S. dollars pharmaceutical industry is now heading towards self-sufficiency in meeting local demand.

A number of big Bangladeshi companies including Muktadir's Incepta have already obtained or are in the process of obtaining overseas certifications.

Muktadir said Bangladesh can continue to produce patented products until 2032 as per trade related intellectual property rights (TRIPS).

The industry is legally permitted to reverse engineer, manufacture and sell generic versions of on-patent pharmaceutical products for domestic consumption as well as for export, he added.

Mujibul Haque Munir, policy research coordinator of EquityBd, a platform of right based civil society organizations in Bangladesh, said there should not be any deadline for withdrawing patent right under TRIPS.

Rather, he said, LDCs need capacity building and technological support so that they can grow.

He stressed the need for allowing LDCs to continue drug manufacturing until and unless they meet the required capacity.

"Medicines at affordable prices contributed a lot to poor Bangladesh people's access to health services. In the past many poor people were even reluctant to get a free prescription from a doctor, thinking that they could not afford to buy medicines."

In Bangladesh, according to a World Bank report, the government has improved coverage and access to basic health services through far-reaching programs backed by multiple donors, including the International Development Association (IDA).

It said this initiative resulted in a 40 percent reduction in maternal mortality from 2001 to 2010, and a 26 percent reduction in child mortality in children under five years old between 2004-2010 period.

Kallol Chowdhury, senior health coordinator of Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), a local development organization, said it's true to say that Bangladesh's booming pharmaceutical industry has already had a positive impact on access to medicines in the country.

He stressed the need for further slashing of medicine prices to make ultra-affordable health services available deep into rural Bangladesh areas.