Business & Economy

Colombian pharma groups urge gov’t to promote health autonomy

By Jorge Gil Angel

Bogota, Nov 15 (EFE).- Colombia’s pharmaceutical industry grew 84.2 percent between 2010 and the end of 2019, but it remains tiny in global terms and accounts for just 0.05 percent of all exports in that sector worldwide.

To change that reality, the country’s two main business associations in that industry are calling for a policy shift at the national level to promote health autonomy.

That was the message delivered by the Colombian Pharmaceutical Industry Association (Ascif) and the Association of Pharmaceutical Industries in Colombia (Asinfar) in a new report titled “The Economic Footprint and Financial Sustainability of the Colombian Pharmaceutical Industry.”

“As a pharmaceutical industry, were haven’t had a significant export vocation. In fact, we (account for) just 0.05 percent of exports worldwide, practically nothing,” Clara Isabel Rodriguez, Ascif’s executive director, told Efe.

Rodriguez urged the government to enact a pharmaceutical industry policy that promotes “health autonomy for the country to ensure Colombia’s medication needs are supplied” while also boosting exports.

She said one of the keys is to work closely with academia, noting that human talent in the area of research and development is extremely important in such a highly regulated and specialized sector.

According to the report, output in the pharmaceutical sector for the 12 months ending in September was valued at some 10 trillion pesos ($2.08 billion), equivalent to 12.2 percent of Colombia’s industrial gross domestic product and 1.5 percent of the country’s overall GDP.

The sector also had made big strides over the previous decade, with output soaring by 84.2 percent over a period of 10 years and coming in at 7.3 trillion pesos in 2019.

Nevertheless, the industry associations expressed concern that even though the domestic industry is responsible for 80 percent of all units sold, its revenue market share in Colombia only stands at roughly 33 percent.

One remarkable aspect of Colombia’s pharmaceutical industry is that workers in that sector, which has more than 47,000 direct employees, earn an average salary that is double that of the national industry as a whole.

“Something very important is that workers are receiving 100 percent of their social benefits … This provides labor stability to personnel who work at our pharmaceutical plants,” said Rodriguez, who added that all of the workers are formally employed.

The report, however, noted that Colombia’s trade deficit in the pharmaceutical sector amounted to $2.3 billion.

“The terms of trade are unfavorable for the country: the price of imports is 3.3 times greater than the price of exports,” with high-cost medications of foreign origin accounting for the terms of trade gap.

“The high price of imports, along with the exchange-rate dynamics, are triggers for potential adjustments to government budgets,” it noted.

Rodriguez said Colombia’s pharmaceutical industry has opportunities to grow and reach other markets because it has significant experience in medication production.

“The whole regulatory issue is also important. The requirements of our health agencies” ensure high quality standards, she added.

Finally, the expert stressed the need for the pharmaceutical sector, academia and the national government to work together on “technology transfer issues.”

“That’s essential to be able to bring vaccine (capability) to the country, biotechnology drugs that are so important and of course would give us greater health autonomy,” she said. EFE


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