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Illegal imports, sales of drugs pose risk to public health in Nepal

Publication Date : 26-05-2014


Rampant illegal imports and unauthorised sales of substandard medicinal products have posed a threat to the public health.

Government officials, drugs manufacturers and consumer rights activists say the lack of proper regulation, monitoring and action against the wrongdoers has encouraged malpractices in such a sensitive sector.

Recently, the Department of Drug Administration (DDA) filed a case against Shalikram Khatiwada from Kalleri, Dhading, for illegally bringing allopathic drugs worth 80,000 Nepali rupees (US$854) from Birgunj to sell in Kathmandu . The seized medicines, including Viagra and those used for abortion, were brought through Shree Carrier based in Bhotebahal, Kathmandu .

According to the Association of Pharmaceutical Producers of Nepal (APPON), antiseptic ointments are being imported as cosmetic products. “Medicines like ‘Pregabaline’, which is used to cure neurological problems, are being imported as dietary supplements,” said APPON General Secretary Deepak Prasad Dahal.

Due to the absence of an effective monitoring mechanism, a number of drug stores are operating without taking the DDA’s permission. Pan Bahadur Chhetri, drug administrator and chief at the inspection unit at DDA, said around 20 per cent of the pharmacies outside the valley have not taken license.

During a recent cross-check of drug stores, DDA found many retail outlets in the valley being operated by unauthorised people. “Although a trained attendant has to be available at drug stores all the time, most of the drug stores were found being operated by untrained workers,” said Chhetri, admitting the DDA could not carry out effective monitoring due to the lack of human and other resources.

The department has just 46 employees in its capital-based head office and regional offices in Biratnagar, Birgunj and Nepalgunj for market monitoring. The head office looks after 26 districts, including the Kathmandu valley, Kavrepalanchok, Dhading and Nuwakot. According to DDA, it carries out market inspection once a week in the valley. DDA officials also join the inspection mobilised by the Commerce Department.

There are total of 12,115 retailers and 2,135 wholesalers licensed by the DDA. And, there are 104 drug manufacturers, of which 47 manufacturer allopathic medicines. 

Consumers’ right activists said a huge price difference, poor quality products, illegal imports and operation of unregistered drugs stores are among the major problems seen in the sector.

Baburam Humagain, treasurer at the Forum for Protection of Consumers’ Rights, said a study carried out by the DDA last year showed around 12 per cent of the medicinal products sold in the country were substandard. He blamed weak inspection for the problems.

Dahal of APPON also accused the DDA of haphazardly issuing licenses to import even the medicines in which country is self-reliant. He said Nepal is self-reliant in 77 types of medicinal products. “DDA has been permitting the imports of such medicines by issuing ‘one time license’, bowing to the pressure from importers.”


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