Although the Ministry of Health estimates that 40 to 50 per cent of Cambodians use traditional medicine, the Kingdom’s pharmaceutical industry is growing rapidly.
In 2012, according to the latest forecast from Business Monitor International (BMI), people in Cambodia spent $236 million on pharmaceuticals, compared with $217 million in 2011.
Seventy per cent of the population sought health care from the private sector in the first instance, last year’s Health Service Delivery Profile Cambodia report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health showed.
“Of these, 20 per cent sought pharmacies for first treatment in urban areas in 2010, and eight per cent in rural areas,” the profile stated.
The sector, however, is vulnerable due to its high dependence on imports. In 2011, there were only eight medical manufacturers in Cambodia, according to a US Department of Commerce report. Minister of Health Mam Bunheng last year emphasised the need for competitive, locally produced medicine.
In 2012, Cambodia imported medicine and pharmaceutical equipment worth about $165.57 million, a rise of 33 per cent compared with 2011, data from the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce show. According to the BMI report, Cambodia imports medical products from India, South Korea, Pakistan, Thailand, Australia and Japan.
In addition to logistical challenges, access to pharmaceutical products is still limited. Last year, the Global Pharmacy Workforce Report by the International Pharmaceutical Organisation found only 1,477 licensed pharmacists in Cambodia. The range of services is often limited and prices are controlled by pharmacists.
The Ministry of Health is the largest purchaser of drugs, medical supplies and equipment, but the proportion of health care provided by the private sector is increasing.
Global and national companies are seeking opportunities in an underdeveloped market. Last year, Germany-based Merck said that unmet medical needs would mean great opportunities in Cambodia.
As well as local traders, global players like Germany’s Bayer, France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline are looking to the Cambodian market. Bayer’s branch manager, Maline Srun, told the Post, “Our business in Cambodia has been growing steadily year on year, well over market growth. We are confident of delivering strong results in the years to come.”
Bayer has more than 40 local employees in Cambodia, contributing to regional full-year sales in the Asia-Pacific region of $4.87 billion in 2011, a 9.4 per cent increase from 2010.
Although domestic supplier Cambodia Pharmaceutical Enterprise sells its products successfully on the local market in all provinces in Cambodia, and Vietnam and Thailand have made significant progress in health-care provision and regulation, Cambodia’s pharmaceutical industry is still underdeveloped, according to the BMI report.
Cambodia continued to rank last out of the key markets in BMI’s Asia-Pacific Risk/Rewards Ratings.
“While the general under-developed market represents long-term opportunities, corruption and poor governance limit market potential,” BMI reported.
“Cambodia has still a very young and disorganised market, which leads to a higher risk of sub-standard products being available,” Benoit said.
The smuggled and counterfeit pharmaceuticals black market worries entrepreneurs. There have been many recent media reports on unregistered pharmacies and the illegal sale of sub-standard pharmaceuticals. Tonnes of counterfeit medicine were seized in Phnom Penh in September.
According to the Ministry of Health, the general state of pharmaceuticals has improved. Health officials report that the circulation of illegal medicine has dropped from 0.5 per cent in 2010 to 0.18 per cent in 2011.
“We recognise the effort from the authorities to fight against counterfeiting and illegal pharmacies, but this should not be a fight from the authorities only. Each stakeholder has to play their role by putting the patient at the top of their priorities,” Benoit said.
Main constraints in the country’s pharmaceutical industry are “the absence of key personnel, the inadequacy of essential drugs support and the absence of other operational guideline requirements”, the WHO and the Ministry of Health wrote in the Health Service Delivery Profile Cambodia report.
“All public health facilities, particularly health centres, experience a lack of supplies due to procurement and distribution problems, non-adherence to procurement schedules, inaccurate quantification, low regulatory capacity and weak enforcement of the law,” the report stated.
To contact the reporters on this story: Sarah Thust at [email protected]