The valley has been witnessing acute shortage of paracetamol, a common painkiller used to treat conditions such as headaches and fever, as the number of dengue cases has steadily gone up in the past few weeks.Pratikshya Lama, 27, of Lalitpur Metropolitan-4, had to return home empty-handed as all the pharmacies she visited said they did not have the medicine. “I went to buy paracetamol as I was suffering from headache and mild fever, but all the pharmacies around my house said they were out of stock,” she said. “Luckily, my uncle managed to get me a few strips from around Patan Hospital.”It turns out, however, that the high demand is not the only reason for the shortage of the analgesic and antipyretic drug.
Santosh Baral, vice-president of the Association of Pharmaceutical Producers of Nepal, said the shortage of cetamol was mainly because pharmaceutical producers in Nepal had to cut down production due to high cost.”It costs two rupees to produce a tablet of cetamol, whereas the government capped its price at one rupee per tablet in 2007,” Baral said.”Prices of raw materials have shot up, especially after the COVID pandemic. Moreover, labour and packaging costs have also risen.”
According to Baral, pharmaceutical producers have slashed production by 50 per cent to 50 million tablets per year at present.”We have been urging the government to review cetamol price for six years, but to no avail. If the government guarantees return on our investment, we’ll be able to fulfil the domestic demand.”Baral added that out of the 10 companies that were importing cetamol earlier, only one does so at the moment.”The import cost per cetamol is Rs 1.50, but they have to sell it to distributors at 80 paisa.”
Meanwhile, Nepal Drugs Ltd, the government enterprise, is unable to manufacture enough cetamol tablets to cater to the domestic demand citing price hike of raw materials.According to Information Officer of NDL Tika Aryal, it is infeasible to sell cetamol at one rupee per tablet as the cost of manufacturing it is higher than the ceiling price (the mandated maximum amount a seller is allowed to charge for a product or service).
“Prior to COVID, the base rate of cetamol powder (raw material) was INR 255 per kg, which has exceeded INR 1,000 after COVID. This means that landed cost (the sum of expenses associated with shipping a product) of cetamol has reached Rs 2,000 per kg. No one wants to manufacture it because selling it at the current base price means incurring a huge loss.” Aryal termed the problem as financial rather than technical. “If the government reviews cetamol’s ceiling price, NDL could produce five million tablets per year.”
According to Information Officer at Department of Drug Administration Santosh KC, the DDA is working on reviewing the price of cetamol. “Soon, we will be calling a meeting of the Drug Advisory Committee for the price adjustment.”