Authorities say Iran produces almost all the pharmaceuticals it needs domestically, and at the same times keeps the prices of medicines low for people to be able to afford them.
A top Iranian pharmaceutical official has given an optimistic view of the country’s pharmaceutical industry, which suggests the industry is in a good situation and can compete with the pharmaceutical industries in the region and in the world.
Given the fluctuations in the forex market and changes in the exchange rate for the dollar, changes in medicine prices have come under the spotlight. This comes as the country’s pharmaceutical industry is critical of some of the policies adopted vis-à-vis the drugs sector, and believes domestic production should be supported more than ever before. Accordingly, we have conducted an interview with Akbar Barandegi, the director general for pharmaceutical affairs at the Iranian Food and Drugs Organization, who shared with the Mehr News Agency his views on the situation of the country’s pharmaceutical industry and the domestic medicines market in the past, present and future.
Pharmaceutical Market before Iran’s Revolution
First, he touched upon the situation of the pharmaceutical market in Iran before the triumph of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“Before the Revolution, between 70% and 80% of the country’s need for medicine was met through imports, and the remaining 20% [were produced] inside the country using the formulas provided by foreign pharmaceutical companies with Iranian workforce.”
“After the victory of the Revolution, we saw faculties of pharmacy being established and multinational foreign firms leave Iran. As a result, the pharmaceutical industry came under the government’s supervision,” said the official.
Pharmaceutical Industry during War
He said Iranian state firms managed the nation’s drugs market during the Iraqi imposed war on Iran during the 1980s.
“In those years, given the situation in the country, efforts were made to stabilise the prices of medicines. At the same time, 50-60 percent of the country’s need for drugs was met domestically,” the official noted.
Current Status of Pharmaceutical Industry in Iran
He then referred to the status of the medicinal drugs industry at the moment.
“Now, four decades on since the victory of the Islamic Revolution and weathering the imposed war era, the situation of the pharmaceutical industry in the country is such that only 3% of the medicines needed is procured through imports, and the remaining 97% of the country’s need for pharmaceuticals is met domestically,” he said.
“The status of the country’s pharmaceutical industry is such that if imports of drugs into the country are stopped right now, we are able to meet 50% of the nation’s need for medicines,” he said.
He underlined Iran is not much dependent on foreign countries when it comes to chemical medicines.
“When it comes to biotechnological drugs, we are also in a position to compete with the world, so much so that Iran is exporting its biotech drugs to such countries as Russia and Turkey,” the official noted.
Why Iran Has Not Been Very Successful in Exports
The official’s comments suggest that not only is the situation of the country’s pharmaceutical industry not bad, but on the contrary, Iran can compete with other countries in the region and across the world. Nevertheless, the key question is why Iran is not doing very well when it comes to exporting drugs.
He said Iranian pharmaceutical companies have the potential to produce twice as much medicines as needed inside the country.
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“Around 45 million drugs are taken in our country annually. This is while the country’s pharmaceutical companies are capable of producing 100 billion medicines per year. In order to increase production capacity, we have no choice but to increase exports,” he noted.
He also touched upon the reasons behind the low figures for Iran’s exports.
“When we talk about trade beyond borders, the language of competition differs from that used inside the country. Beyond the borders, there are multinational pharmaceutical companies, and we should compete with them in the field of exports,” he said.
He said one of the impediments to the export of pharmaceuticals is the low prices of medicines in Iran.
“We keep drug prices low, so that people can afford them.”
The official also underscored the government’s backing for exports.
“When we are under sanctions, we will have difficulty bringing back the money [from exports]” he said.
Per Capita Medicine Consumption in Iran
It is said that the average drug consumption rate in Iran is higher than the global figure. This is while the official believes only the consumption of a few kinds of medicines is high.
He said each Iranian uses 500 medicines per year, which costs around Rls. 2,000,000.
“This is the figure for per capita drug consumption in Iran,” he says.
“The consumption rate for antibiotics and corticosteroids in the country is higher than the global average, and the reason is the culture prevailing in the country and patients’ demands from doctors. Antibiotics make up 60% of the drugs prescribed by doctors. This comes as doctors in other countries do not prescribe antibiotics so easily,” he said.
He said the consumption rate for the medicines which are injected as well as sedatives is higher than the global average while the consumption of drugs among diabetics is less than international figures. He underlined that for diseases such as diabetics, the consumption rate should be higher, but it is not.
Conditions for Importing Raw Materials for Pharmaceuticals
He stressed that there is tough supervision over the imports of medicines and raw materials for medicinal drugs. He said Iranian pharmaceutical companies act based on an American medicinal book which specifies what features raw materials should have. He added Iranian companies have their own regulations for drug imports and raw materials, and that imported pharmaceuticals should measure up to those standards.
“We study the conditions of the factory which is to import a certain product into our country. First we check whether or not it has the requirements and certificates approved by European supervisory bodies as well as the United States’ Food and Drug Administration. Then we begin to import the product,” he said.
The official said the imported raw materials used for 97% of domestically-produced drugs amount to $650-700 million.
He said 25% of the raw materials for pharmaceuticals produced in Iran come from China, 40 to 50 percent from other Asian countries, and the rest from Europe.