By Francis Kagolo

KAMPALA, Nov 20 — Uganda’s Health Ministry has come out in support of the quest by the local pharmaceutical industry to be protected from foreign competition to enhance citizens’ access to drugs.

“Medicines like Panadol and Septrine can be made and bought cheaply in Uganda but we continue buying them from abroad. It is a shame,” Dr. Asuman Lukwago, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, said here Wednesday.

“Local pharmaceutical companies can be given affirmative action in terms of resources and assured market to boost local capacity. Procuring from home is cheaper; it can improve availability of medicines.”

He was responding to drug manufacturers who requested the government to adopt a protectionist policy in the pharmaceutical sector.

“We (local producers) have a lot of capacity but the country is not utilising it. We have a lot of capacity for most generic drugs. Why do we keep importing them?” said Ramesh Babu, the director of ABACUS, one of the local producers of health supplies.

“Unless you give us protection, we shall continue wasting money procuring drugs from abroad,” he added, arguing that continued importation deters investment in the sector.

“Drugs are the same, whether they are manufactured from China, India or East Africa,” Babu said during the pharmaceutical sector conference at the Speke Resort Munyonyo here Monday.

Protectionism is the economic policy of restraining trade between states through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, restrictive quotas, and a variety of other government regulations designed to allow fair competition between imports and goods and services produced domestically.

Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the State Minister for Health, explained that the government encouraged supplies from the local market, especially for drugs like anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs and items like hospital mattresses and cotton wool.

He, however, observed that international regulations and trade agreements ought to be considered before adopting the protectionism policy.

Uganda’s pharmaceutical and medical products sector has witnessed steady growth trends since the 1990s. There are currently over 20 manufacturers producing medicinal products and supplies such as tablets, hard gelatin capsules, injectables, liquid mixtures and surgical gauze among others.

A 2010 report from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido) showed that the country still imports more than 90 per cent of its essential medicines and health supplies, mainly from India and China.

At the conference, the United States Agency for Internatinal Development (USAID) announced a 30 million US dollar donation for a new five-year project aimed at strengthening capacity in the pharmaceutical sector to boost availability of medicines from the current 86 per cent.

The minister urged implementers of the project to exercise efficiency, equity, transparency and accountability for it to achieve the intended goal.


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