In a bid to reduce imports of pharmaceuticals, the Minister of Health said he is hoping to allocate up to $2 million to spur the domestic manufacture of easily produced medication.
“We would like to promote some domestic pharmaceutical products in order to strengthen the capacity to control the drug situation in the country,” said Health Minister Nuth Sokhom on Thursday.
“We want to cooperate with the private sector to improve the quality of the drugs, in particular.”
He said that the hoped-for 2006 health ministry budget allocation
—which he said he is currently lobbying Ministry of Finance officials for—would go towards boosting local production of such cheaply manufactured items such as acetaminophen, a pain killer that also reduces fever, and Vitamin C pills, if approved.
Currently, Cambodia has six registered pharmaceutical manufacturers making up to 200 varieties of drugs, according to health officials.
Cambodia imports medication from a wide range of nations, including India, China and neighboring countries Thailand and Vietnam.
Officials at the recently opened Pakistani Embassy said they were planning to host a pharmaceutical exhibition in Phnom Penh in March to tout their nation’s drug exports.
On the public health front, Nuth Sokhom said the ministry is battling the influx of fake or substandard drug imports by forcing all manufacturers to clearly show their company name, their products’ ingredients and a registration number confirming that the drug has been approved by government health inspectors.
Chroeng Sokhan, vice director of the ministry’s department of drugs and food, said last month that close to half of the medication brands stocked in pharmacies across the nation were not approved by the government.
Officials believe that a small portion of fake or substandard pharmaceuticals is produced domestically, but that the large majority of the sham drugs are smuggled in through the nation’s porous borders.
For years, global health officials have considered China and India as the biggest counterfeit drug producing and exporting centers.
Some counterfeit drugs include cheap generic drugs sold in the packaging of more costly brand equivalents or products with no active ingredients at all.
But the most dangerous type are fakes that actually contain toxic ingredients. Counterfeit antimalarial drugs were responsible for the deaths of at least 30 Cambodians in 1999, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Local health officials say that large numbers of Cambodians are still put at risk and even die from ingesting fake or substandard drugs.
Under Cambodia’s law, anyone who produces, smuggles or sells pharmaceuticals that are detected to be shams or have reached their expiration date risk penalties from $5,000 to $12,500 and up to 10 years in prison.
The World Health Organization has estimated that as much as 10 percent of the global medicine market may be comprised of fraudulent pharmaceuticals. As much as 70 percent of the sham drugs circulate through developing countries, according to the WHO.