The Financial Express early last month broke the news that Sanofi, a leading multinational pharmaceutical company, would close its Bangladesh operations soon.
The company, reportedly, has already informed the government, which has 45 per cent stake in it, of its decision to pull out. Since Sanofi has not yet contradicted the press reports, there are justified reasons to believe that it would really fold its operations in Bangladesh.
Another multinational, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has already wound up its drug manufacturing operations in Bangladesh.
GSK is a listed company, but Sanofi is not. However, both have been earning handsome profit from their operations here. GSK declared dividend at a rate of 530 per cent in 2018 and Sanofi earned a profit equivalent to more than 10 times the face value of its share in 2017.
Why are then these companies winding up operations? To many, the departure remains a puzzle.
GSK people here preferred not to talk about the reasons behind their departure. But some top officials of Sanofi, who did not want to be identified, have listed the unethical business practices indulged in by many local pharmaceutical companies as the reason for leaving Bangladesh.
They have alleged that local companies do resort to unethical marketing practices to promote their products. Drug manufacturers bribe a section of physicians with substantial amount of cash money, valuable gifts and sponsor their foreign tours.
The allegation made by the Sanofi officials is, in fact, an open secret. This evil practice has been going on for many years and in recent years it has even intensified further because of fierce competition among the local drug manufacturers.
The international drug manufacturers, usually, do not indulge in such bad business practice in any country and they attach more importance to ensuring quality of the drugs that they produce.
The deployment of a large army of medical promotion officers in and outside the major public and private hospitals does highlight the fierce competition among the drug manufacturing companies. Many leading physicians do not find time to see patients, yet they can create time for meeting these marketing people.
Senior and mid-level doctors serving in large public health facilities do earn handsome amount through private practice. Yet a good number of them cannot ignore the lure of commission and gifts extended to them by local pharmaceutical companies. They have developed the habit of accepting those and also commission money from the diagnostic centres.
Unfortunately, the local pharmaceutical companies are least bothered by widespread criticism. The Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council (BMDC) has also been overlooking the issue despite the fact it is a breach of ethical values on the part of physicians.
But this bad practice can be easily done away with just at the stroke of a pen. What the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) does need to do is issue a directive asking all registered physicians to write generic names, not brand names, of drugs in prescriptions.
Doctors serving in some large private hospitals have been doing it for long. No medical promotion officers are seen around these hospitals.
Quality control is the most important aspect in drug manufacturing. There is no way of knowing how good the companies are in manufacturing drugs. Such information needs to be disseminated through a reliable rating system as happens in some other industries.