About 50% of pharmacies in Chattogram are unlicensed, according to the documents of the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) in Chattogram.
A lot of pharmacies in 15 upazilas of the district and 13 thanas of Chattogram metropolis are selling medicine using expired licences, or without ever having obtained one. At the upazila level, the licences of 55% of pharmacies have expired while in different thanas of the port city, 45% of pharmacies have not renewed their licences for years.
DGDA officials said whether a pharmacy operates with an expired licence or never having obtained a licence, it amounts to the same thing.
Rahim Medical Hall Pharmacy in Bandar thana, Chattogram last renewed its licence in 2007. Its licence expired in 2009. The pharmacy regularly sells medicine and has not renewed its licence in the last 11 years.
Taher Pharmacy, under the same police station, has not renewed its licence since it expired in 2004. Abu Taher, owner of the pharmacy, has listed his wife Tahmina as the pharmacist in the documents submitted to the district DGDA. But during a visit to the pharmacy, this correspondent found a 16-year-old boy, Arman Hossain, in the role. He has no academic knowledge in pharmacy.
When asked about this, Abu Taher said, "There is another pharmacist in my shop, aside from my wife. The teenage boy serves as a sales assistant. He does not sell medicine directly."
According to the statistics of district DGDA, out of the 12,200 pharmacies in Chattogram city, the licences of 5,891 pharmacies have expired. And out of the 6,309 upazila level pharmacies, 3,444 are running with expired licence. The licences of almost half of them expired at least five years ago.
According to the Drugs Act – 1940, to carry on with business, the renewal of a license is mandatory for a pharmacy every two years.
But the owners of pharmacies, pointing to complications in the renewal process, are reluctant to abide by the law due to negligence of DGDA and other authorities concerned.
The pharmacy owners are carrying on the drug business year after year with expired licenses, deliberately violating the Drugs Act as well as depriving the government of a huge amount of revenue.
Due to a lack of accountability, experts fear that illegal and adulterated drugs are sold by these pharmacies.
According to DGDA sources, 14 thanas of the port city and 15 upazilas of the district are under Chattogram DGDA. It is not possible to carry out inspections at these 29 thanas and upazilas with very limited manpower. However, during the joint drive carried out with district administration, 10% of pharmacies were found to have expired licenses.
Scrutinising DGDA's list of pharmacies operating with an expired license, it was found that 45% of pharmacies are running their businesses with an expired license. The majority of such illegal pharmacies are in Doublemooring thana where licenses of 575 pharmacies out of 746 have expired. The second is Kotrwali thana where out of 1,479 pharmacies, the licenses of 472 have expired.
In Bandar, Panchlaish, Chandgaoan, Pahartoli, Halishahar, Patenga, Bakalia, Bayezid, and Khulshi, respectively, 375, 304, 289, 203, 176, 114, 67, 56, and 36 pharmacies' licenses have expired. EPZ and Akbar Shah thana lists are not available.
The number of pharmacies running business with expired licenses is 1,306.
According to the law, in case of expired licenses in metropolitan areas for more than one year, the delay fee is Tk1,800 and Tk1,500 for the upazila level. As such, the amount of delay fees stands at around Tk10 lakh.
Government loses revenue
Every two years, pharmacy owners are supposed to renew their licenses paying a fee of Tk1,800 at the metropolis level and Tk1,500 at the upazila level.
But, year after year, pharmacy owners do business dodging the revenue the government is supposed to get.
According to the Drug Administration, 2,667 pharmacies in metropolitan areas are doing business with expired licenses, and in upazilas, 3,444 pharmacies.
It means the amount of due revenue in metropolitan areas, including the renewal fee and 15% VAT, stands at Tk55,20,000. Adding due revenue in upazila level, the amount jumps to around Tk1.25 crore.
Why are not licences renewed?
The Business Standard correspondent spoke to at least 10 pharmacy owners in the Kotwali, Panchlaish and Double Mooring thanas of the city to find out if their licences had been renewed.
They said even if the ownership of a pharmacy changes, it cannot be changed on the licence. In that case, one has to get a new licence. And if one applies for a new licence, one has to wait for three to six months to get it – which is time consuming. For this reason, pharmacy owners are not willing to renew the licence; so they continue business with the old licence.
However, DGDA officials said there are other issues beside the ownership complication. To apply for the renewal of the licence, a pharmacy owner has to submit eight types of papers including the C-grade pharmacist's certificate, trade licence, TIN certificate, bank statement and other such documents. But in most cases, the owners fail to submit the pharmacist's certificate.
Experts express concern
SM Nazer Hossain, vice-president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), expressed concern over a large number of pharmacies operating with expired licences in Chattogram.
He told The Business Standard, "The number of expired pharmacy licences is higher than what the drug administration estimates. Such a situation was due to lack of surveillance. These pharmacies are not accountable as they do not have licences. As a result, there is a high risk of selling adulterated and counterfeit drugs in these pharmacies which is a big threat to public health."
When contacted, Civil Surgeon Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said, "There is no scope for doing business with an expired licence as there is a risk of expired drugs being sold by these pharmacies. Not only that, pharmacies are bound to have a minimum C-grade pharmacist. But if you search, you will find negligence there also."
What the administration says
Hossain Mohammad Imran, assistant director of Chattogram DGDA, told The Business Standard, "Due to a lack of manpower, we have not been able to visit many areas regularly. As a result, pharmacy owners are selling drugs without renewing their licences. These pharmacies are not legal."