Pharmaceutical trade miffed over drug procurements from nondescript channels

Oncology products in particular

by Suresh Perera

Sri Lanka’s pharmaceutical industry is perturbed over ongoing moves to procure drugs, particularly oncology (cancer) products, from lesser known, nondescript channels rather than from reputed registered suppliers, solely on the basis of low pricing.

It is a risky proposition to purchase live-saving drugs from "traders" in the pharmaceutical business as it is an open secret that they don’t run companies with work ethics, but merely source products from diverse dubious ‘contacts’ in the market and send them across, industry players asserted.

Accommodating suppliers sans proven track records translates into a matter between life and death for patients seeking treatment in government health facilities in the backdrop of 30% of drugs produced in India and Pakistan known to be fakes, they pointed out.

It is an open secret that there exist "tender kakkas" (crows), who attempt to manipulate the system and win bids on behalf of these "traders" on the criteria of ridiculously low costing. At the end of the day, the stocks they lap up from various sources lack safety and efficacy, officials said.

It is true that there is quality testing at this end, but how many substandard products have slipped in and are used in Sri Lanka with little or no efficacy?, they queried. "There is a ‘mafia factor’ in this trade, where suppliers of integrity are battling for survival".

The industry is abuzz with the news of how moves to award a bid to procure a well-known, proven drug to treat patients with head and neck cancer to a small-time "trader" backfired after the local authorized supplier of the international manufacturer threatened legal action, they noted.

"The process was reversed as there was no legal provision for any other party to supply this international patented product", the officials noted. "The question that arises was whether the party awarded the bid in the first place was trying to push through a duplicate brand".

"Where there are complaints on bids, we refer them back to the Tender Board", says Dr. Lal Panapitiya, Director, Medical Supplies Division (MSD).

"There was a reversal done recently also after we reverted to the Tender Board following a protest by a supplier", he recalled.

That was on the oncology bid which virtually ended up with a party better known for outsourcing drugs from shady channels, industry players averred. "Playing around with vital drugs for cancer patients should stop".

Some procurements are made outside tender procedure as the pricing is within the anticipated low range in terms of pricing, they charged.

"We look at not only the pricing factor, but quality as well", Panapitiya assured.

As Sri Lanka is categorized as a ‘Zone 4B’ country where humidity levels are high, triple lamination on blister packaging of capsules/tablets should be mandatory to avoid fungus growths as a result of oxygen coming into contact with the drugs and making them unstable, industry officials suggested.

But, apart from relatively expensive drugs from advanced countries, most other products imported from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are single laminated because of the cost factor. Though this process poses a high risk factor in terms of contamination, how can top quality drugs be supplied at rock bottom prices, they asked.

The detection of fungus in blister strips of Metformin last week was another case of contamination, perhaps due to poor packaging which had allowed oxygen to seep in, the officials elaborated.

"There is a tender process involved and some of these issues are beyond me", the MSD Director stressed. "We act on the recommendations made".


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