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Need for boost in local medicine

Kao Muylim, general director of EPHAC pharmaceutical company and president of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Association of Cambodia
Kao Muylim, general director of EPHAC pharmaceutical company and president of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Association of Cambodia. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Need for boost in local medicine

Cambodia spent more than $165 million last year importing medicine, a 33 per cent increase compared with 2011, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce. Despite an increase in consumption, the use of locally produced medicine remains small; representing just about 15 per cent of the total consumption.

The Post’s Hor Kimsay talked to Kao Muylim, general director of EPHAC pharmaceutical company and president of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Association of Cambodia about current developments in Cambodia’s pharmaceutical industry.

How does Cambodia’s pharmaceutical industry look?
Now, Cambodia has eight pharmaceutical manufacturers and produces medicine to supply the market every day, accounting for about 15 per cent of the total consumption in the country. The rest, about 85 per cent, is imported, largely from neighbouring countries. We observed that local production is increasing gradually alongside improving quality and growing recognition. In September this year, our company, EPHAC, won an international award from the Business Initiate Directors (BID), a France-based business committee to control the quality of medicine production. BID gave us the award to prove that our production quality is recognised internationally, the first international recognition ever for the pharmaceutical industry in Cambodia.

What segment of Cambodia’s population uses locally produced medicine?
We create drugs to treat every individual. However, in practice, we can see that the medicine produced locally is mostly used by families on average income levels and below that. Middle income earners and wealthy people mostly buy imported medicine or travel abroad to get their treatment.

What are the major challenges in developing Cambodia’s pharmaceutical industry?
There are several factors. They include a lack of government intervention, a lack of confidence among consumers towards using local products and especially the use of counterfeit drugs, which cost less. Counterfeit drugs are a serious problem in the country. Cambodia still depends largely on imported medicine, despite the fact that much of a good quality is being produced in the country. The government spends only about $2 million to buy medicine from two of the eight local pharmaceutical companies to provide them to public hospitals. The bidding process [for choosing these two] is also not transparent, narrowing the market side of local companies and discouraging them to expand.

What would you say to those who think local products lack quality?
It is not true. Even if our products are produced in the country, the quality is comparable to the imported items. We work with standardised procedures with a focus on efficiency, safety and quality. I can say that many of our drugs have the same quality as imported drugs because we follow the same formula. The award that EPHAC received from BID is good evidence to prove our quality to the public.

What are possible strategies to boost local production and earn confidence from the public?
The current production capacity in the local pharmaceutical industry has been growing, while the quality of our product also improves. The government should help to strengthen the local production by better fighting counterfeit drugs and increase the taxes on imported drugs to protect local production. In addition, we are strengthening public education for people to know about the quality of local products so that we can increase the confidence of consumers. Most importantly, public hospitals need to increase the use of drugs produced in Cambodia. Then it encourages local companies to expand.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.