Medicine imports have been halted since Monday, officials term it a ‘stunt’Department of Drug Administration says it is ready to facilitate importers get medicines released from customs.
With the government implementing a new provision for foreign-made medicines, drug traders have halted the import of medicines since Monday.
The halt includes medicines required in the critical care units, coronary care units and others; if it continues for a long time, it could affect the treatment of patients.
“We have not imported medicines since Monday,” said Mrigendra Meher Shrestha, president of the Nepal Chemists and Druggists Association. “The new provision creates confusion and hassles for importers.”
The government introduced the provision in the new fiscal budget, which is implemented as a law as it has been passed by Parliament.
The provision mandates the name and complete address of the manufacturer/packer, importer, country of origin, distributor and detailed address should be mentioned on the label of the medicines.
“First of all, it is not possible to mention everything on the labels of medicines,” Shrestha said. “Second, it is impractical to import an entire batch of the medicine. Third, the manufacturing companies too do not print separate labels for a single batch of medicines. The Drugs Act also prohibits printing anything extra on the labels of medicines.”
Nepal imports around 55 percent of its medicines, mostly from India. Around 175 firms import medicines worth Rs66 billion annually. Altogether, 450 firms import allopathic, veterinary and ayurvedic medicines.
Shrestha said even though the importers have halted imports, there will not be a shortage immediately as there are sufficient medicines in stock.
The association has drawn the attention of the finance minister, finance secretary, revenue secretary, director general of the customs office, health minister, health secretary and director general of the Department of Drug Administration about the problems created by the new provision.
Health ministry officials, however, termed the halt in import as a ‘stunt’ by the importers.
“No customs office in the country has prevented anyone from importing medicines,” an official at the health ministry said, asking not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “Everyone should comply with the state’s rules and regulations.”
Officials said the traders do not import medicines at this time (at the start of the new fiscal year). “If their cargo had got stuck at the customs points, they would come to us for facilitation to get their cargo released as no one would be ready to pay the demurrage charges,” said the official. “The real thing is importers had been importing other costly products in the name of medicines for a long time and the new provision has ended their unseen business.”
The officials said that importers have been bringing costly cosmetic products, including ointment, nutraceuticals and others in the name of medicines, for which they just have to pay one percent tax. Altogether, the importers pay around five percent tax on the medicines.
“We are ready to facilitate them to import medicines to the country,” said Narayan Dhakal, director general at the Department of Drug Administration. “If the cargo of medicines is already at customs points and new provisions are not included, we are ready to facilitate finding a common point to get the cargo released. However, one should understand that new rules, which many countries across the world have, will be implemented in Nepal as well.”