DUBAI // The UAE must cut its reliance on imported medicines in order to avoid shortages that leave patients unable to find the drugs they need, a Ministry of Health official said yesterday.
Dr Salem Al Darmaki, the acting undersecretary at the Ministry of Health, said an expansion of the home-grown pharmaceutical industry was important to reduce the dependence on imports.
The anti-anxiety drug Xanax disappeared from pharmacy shelves recently, and doctors have also reported shortages of other types of medication, including the antidepressant Zoloft and the mood stabiliser Lamictal.
The UAE is vulnerable to such disruptions in supplies because just 8 per cent of the total used each year is produced in the country.
"Investment in any healthcare sector will help to improve the quality of care and avoid any shortages," he said. "It's the same thing with pharmaceuticals, the same thing with instruments, the same thing with medical equipment, and so on."
Dr Al Darmaki was speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony for a factory to be built by Dubai-based Pharmax Pharmaceuticals at the DuBiotech life sciences park.
"We are pleased to support the expansion of a home-grown pharmaceutical company in the UAE," he said. "We believe such growth will encourage other indigenous companies to expand their operations.
"This is particularly important to make the UAE market less reliant on imported pharmaceutical products. We hope to see more growth in this sector, especially for drugs for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension."
The Pharmax chief executive Ahmad Tabari said: "Having local manufacturers would make you less reliant on imports. In this increasingly complex world, international trade patterns can be disrupted. We have seen it happen in the past, so it is useful to have a stockpile of locally produced medications.
"This becomes acute, not in the normal course of operations, but when you have an epidemic, like the Sars epidemic or anything of that nature.
"Should that ever come again, the medications would have to be brought in, and the UAE would become subject to the limitations of production and quota restrictions by the manufacturer.
"We will not necessarily be able to get the necessary vaccines and antibiotics, so being able to produce them locally would certainly address those kinds of issues."
He said any disruptions to the supply of imported drugs were likely to be the result of problems in the distribution channels, or production issues.
"There can be delays in the factory. That happens, factories always have production issues. One of the roles of a distributor is to maintain adequate stocks to ensure there is enough coverage for any such disruptions, but maybe that didn't happen."
The Pharmax plant will produce a range of 25 branded generic drugs when it is completed in two years' time. It is the first manufacturing facility to be developed at DuBiotech.
Mr Tabari added: "We're going to be focusing on diseases that are associated with the region, largely hypertension, cardiovascular, and diabetes, of course, is high on our list."
Dr Al Darmaki said work was continuing on drawing up a revised law to regulate the pharmaceutical industry, but he could not say when it would be introduced.