The country's pharmaceutical industry is heavily dependent on India and China, with 70 percent of raw materials coming from the two countries.
But the import of active pharmaceutical ingredients used to make drugs has almost remained suspended since the beginning of January this year amid the outbreak of coronavirus.
Of late, India has curbed the export of 26 types of generic drugs, which has only added to the crisis.
Thus, the supply chain disruption, caused by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, has triggered fears of a shortage of pharma raw materials among drug manufacturers.
The country's medicine manufacturing companies have said they will face a crisis of raw materials in the next two or three months with a minimum amount of stocks left for now.
According to industry insiders, some companies have already begun to experience shortage of raw materials used to produce medicines for hepatitis, blood pressure and acidity.
The Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industry (BAPI) has made it known that over 97 percent of raw materials meant for manufacturing drugs are import-dependent. Some 40 percent comes from China, 30 percent from India, 10 percent from Korea and the rest is imported from Europe, the United States and Japan.
Drug manufacturers think if the coronavirus crisis lingers, the pharma industry will plunge into a crisis.
M Shafiuzzaman, secretary to the BAPI, told The Business Standard,"The country's medicine manufacture depends on China and India. We will have to resort to the European market if the ongoing coronavirus crisis does not end within the next one month. But in that case, medicine prices will go up."
Moreover, raw materials for all medicines might not be available in the European market, he pointed out.
Mohammad Mohsin, general manager at ACI Pharmaceuticals, said, "Till now, almost all the companies have stocks of raw materials. As imports from China and India remain suspended, we are looking for alternative markets such as the US and European countries. Nonetheless, there is uncertainty over those markets too as coronavirus has spread worldwide."
Drug companies said the cheapest source of pharma raw materials is China. But being an epicentre of the virus, the country's businesses with the rest of the world have almost closed.
Abdur Rouf Khan, managing director of Opsonin Pharma Limited, said, "From next month, we will start getting an idea of how much crisis of raw materials we will face."
If the stalemate in China continues for two or three more months, there will be a shortage of pharma raw materials, said Major General Mahbubur Rahman, director general of the Directorate General of Drug Administration.
"The situation in China is improving now. Letters of credit will possibly be opened within the next one week. If the problem is resolved within the next one month, we will not face any crisis," he said.
"We met with drug manufacturers several times in the last one month to know how much stocks they have. They have informed us that they have enough to continue production for the next three to four months," Mahbubur Rahman added.
Mizanur Rahman, executive director (operation) of the country's leading drug producer Square Pharmaceuticals, said, "We have enough inventory and raw materials to continue the manufacture of medicines for at least three months. Besides, we are trying to import from European countries as alternatives to China and India."
India stands next to China as an alternative source for importing pharma raw materials. But the world's main supplier of generic drugs on Tuesday restricted exports of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients as the coronavirus outbreak plays havoc with supply chains.
Delhi took the step to ensure adequate supplies for its own drug manufacturers in the wake of a drastic fall in raw material production in China owing to the coronavirus crisis.
India is also heavily dependent on China for pharma raw materials.
The country also stopped the export of paracetamol, a common pain reliever.
The director general of the drug administration, however, said the country will not face any crisis of paracetamol.
"Raw materials used to make paracetamol are produced in our country. We have stocks for the next five to six months. So, there is nothing to worry about."
Mahbubur said the country's drug manufacturers had been asked to look for alternatives regarding the import of pharma raw materials to face the ongoing crisis.
Many companies are trying to reach out to different European sources for the import of some items. "But it will cost more to bring raw materials from Europe."
The country's pharmaceutical industry has been affected by the suspension of export and import activities with China, according to a report published by Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission this month.
According to the Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceuticals Industry, sales of medicines in the local market were Tk22,000 crore in 2019. After meeting domestic demand, medicines amounting to Tk1,108 crore were exported to 150 countries, including the US. Only 3 percent of pharma raw materials are produced locally.