Opsonin Pharma, with a 6 percent stake in the country's 22 thousand crore domestic medicine market, registered more than 15 percent growth on an average per annum in the last few years. But its sales fell by at least 20 percent in April because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Abdur Rauf, managing director at Opsonin Pharma Limited, told The Business Standard, "70 percent of our sales representatives cannot continue their usual work, including meeting with doctors.
"Doctors in most private hospitals have stopped writing prescriptions."
The company's export also dropped by 5-10 percent due to problems over customs clearance during the ongoing shutdown, he added.
Medicine sales of all pharmaceutical companies, except for two or three leading ones, have fallen significantly. Exports of drugs have fallen too due to poor marketing and supply.
ACI Pharmaceuticals, which ranks eighth on the list of top pharmaceutical companies in the country, has witnessed a 20 percent drop in sales.
Mohammad Mohsin, general manager (marketing) of ACI Pharmaceuticals, said all private chambers of doctors in Dhaka remain closed. About 60 percent of doctors in the countryside are also staying away from their chambers. Drugs, except those for hyperacidity, fever and cold, are not being sold much. They have sold some refills of prescribed medicines.
In the first week of this month, sales of all companies dropped drastically, he added.
Some 200 more companies – that remain out of the top ten – have fallen into deeper troubles than Opsonin and ACI Pharmaceuticals.
Chief executives of some of those companies said doctors are not prescribing medicines as patients are not visiting hospitals. Hence, sales of drugs have declined steeply. Only routine medicines for hyperacidity, heart disease and diabetes are being sold.
Despite not being on the list of top ten companies, Beacon Pharmaceuticals has been a significant company.
Mohammad Ebadul Karim, managing director of Beacon, said his company also saw a minimum 30 percent decline in sales in April.
"The factory that produces packaging materials is closed. Sales representatives cannot go anywhere too. In this time of shutdown, our sales have declined. We also cannot keep our exports steady," Ebadul Karim added.
Mominul Haque, managing director of General Pharmaceuticals, linked the raw material crisis, supply chain disruption, and doctors not prescribing medicines to a 40 percent fall in the company's sales.
Around 16 more pharmaceutical companies said their sales have decreased by at least 30 percent.
Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceuticals Industries (BAPI) said most of the 217 pharma companies, who are currently in operation, have recorded a decline in sales. Only a few top companies have maintained good businesses.
M Shafiuzzaman, secretary to the BAPI, told The Business Standard, "97 percent of our raw materials meant for manufacturing drugs are import-dependent. Some 70 percent come from India and China."
Import from China has remained suspended since January. India also curbed the export of 26 types of generic drugs. As a result, small companies faced a crisis of raw materials. Almost all companies have reduced production, he added.
"Sales of small companies have dropped drastically as doctors stopped writing prescriptions," he said, adding that the import of raw materials from China has resumed.
Although almost all pharma companies have lost businesses during the coronavirus crisis, three top ones – Square Pharmaceuticals, Beximco and Acme Laboratories – have registered growth in both domestic sales and exports.
Rafiqul Islam, company secretary of Acme Laboratories, said, "In April, we achieved 5-7 percent growth. Our exports rose too. But our sales fell a bit in the first week of this month."
Square Pharmaceuticals, the top company with an 18 percent stake in the local market, achieved its sales target in April. The company's annual growth target is 15 percent, said a top official of Square.
A senior medical promotion officer of Square Pharmaceuticals, who works in Jashore territory, said, "Some 60 percent doctors in this region keep their private chambers open. We have regularly visited those. We have met 108 percent of the target in April."
According to Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceuticals Industries (BAPI), 25 percent of the country's drugs sold are anti-ulcerant or hyperacidity, antibiotic and insulin. Sales of such drugs are regular across the country. Even though the doctors are not seeing patients, people need to refill their prescriptions.
There are 273 listed pharma companies in the country. Of them, 217 are in operation right now. In 2019, sales of medicines in the local market were Tk22 thousand crore. After meeting domestic demand, medicines amounting to Tk1,108 crore were exported to different countries. The pharmaceutical industry's annual growth is 15 percent.
In 2020, the industry has maintained growth for the first three months but saw a fall in sales in April, said Zakir Hossain, ex-director of Bangladesh Chemist and Druggist Samity.
There are 1.25 lakh registered, and around 18 thousand unregistered, pharmacies in the country. Although all the drug stores are open following the government's directive, sales of most shops have declined at this time of coronavirus shutdown. The supply of drugs also dropped during the time, he added.