The country’s pharmaceutical industry has a huge skills shortage‚ lacking at least 12‚000 pharmacists to meet international standards.

This is according to the Departments of Health, and Trade and Industry‚ which, on Wednesday, gave evidence at a joint meeting of Parliament’s economic development and health portfolio committees on the state of the pharmaceuticals industry.

Swasthi Soomaroo‚ director of pharmaceuticals and medical services in the Department of Trade and Industry‚ said SA was predominantly a generic manufacturing industry and was rated 46 in the list of global exporters of pharmaceutical products. However‚ she said the industry has its own problems that need attention‚ including a skills shortage.

"There are several challenges facing the sector that I think will be critical pillars to the sector’s development. [The department] has started looking at what sort of issues have led to some of these challenges ... the skills shortage across the value chain is one of our biggest issues of the last few years. We’ve lost several skills‚" said Soomaroo. "One of the things relevant to industrial development is to make sure we have enough adequately trained industrial pharmacists."

In her written submission‚ Soomaroo also said SA was lagging behind in meeting best international practices in pharmaceuticals.

"The skills shortage and the cost of specialised skills also affect the entire pharmaceutical industry supply chain as companies are required to have a supervising pharmacist," the presentation read. "It is estimated that SA requires 12‚000 pharmacists to meet the international benchmark of 50 pharmacists per 100,000 people."

Dr Anban Pillay‚ deputy-director general of regulation and compliance in the Department of Health‚ said South African drug companies are struggling to compete with their counterparts in countries such as India and China‚ which are among the top players in global pharmaceutical production, with many factors affecting the production of pharmaceuticals.

"First, and most important, is access to appropriately skilled people to develop the production capacity. The production of pharmaceuticals is not an easy process‚" said Pillay, adding that in terms of training South Africans‚ experts are coming in from India for about 18 months to two years to transfer skills.

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