Despite the phased reopening of the economy, production of pharmaceuticals in Himachal Pradesh has failed to return to its pre-Covid levels, primarily due to reduction in demand and inadequate availability of raw materials and manpower, manufacturers have said.
“We’re running at around only 60 per cent of our capacity because many workers who went back home during the lockdown have not yet returned, and there has been a surge in prices of several raw materials. For example, isopropyl alcohol, widely used in preparation of tablets, was selling for Rs 60-70 per litre before the pandemic. Now its demand has shot up because it is also used in making sanitisers. So it’s selling for as much as Rs 300 per litre, forcing even the sanitiser makers to switch to ethanol,” said Hitender Singh, Director of Baddi-based Medcure Pharma.
The director of Dagon Pharmaceuticals, Gautam, too, said that availability of raw materials is an issue, resulting in increased prices.
While prices of essential drugs are regulated in India by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, the cost of raw materials and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) required to make them is unregulated, and prone to fluctuations.
According to Munish Thakur, general secretary of the Himachal Drug Manufacturers’ Association (HDMA), a majority of the plants are running at a production capacity of around 70 per cent.
However, the export of drugs has continued unhampered. Rajesh Gupta, president of HDMA, said that exports from the country, in fact, have witnessed a growth of 9 to 10 per cent in the first quarter of the current fiscal.
“One of the reasons for low production for domestic consumption is the fall in demand due to low footfall at the OPDs,” said Gupta.
In 2019-20, India exported pharmaceutical products worth Rs 1.15 lakh crore, constituting over 5 per cent of India’s total exports, according to trade data maintained by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Last month, Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur told members of the US-India Business Council that even during the ongoing crisis, the pharma industry of the state produced enough hydroxychloroquine to meet the country’s domestic demand as well that of several other nations such as the USA.
HDMA’s Munish Thakur said that several companies such as Cadila and Innova Captab are engaged in the manufacture of HCQ. When the demand for the drug peaked in the international market for its use in the management of Covid-19, domestic manufacturers ramped up its production to export the product, he said. The additional demand for anti-malarial drug has now fallen after several studies found it had no beneficial effect on Covid patients.