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The uphill battle towards pharmaceutical self-sufficiency

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Can the local industry do more for less?

Sri Lanka’s pharmaceutical sector has stepped up to the plate during the past two years working tirelessly to cater to the national demand for drugs in the midst of import restrictions compelled by the global pandemic. The industry revival is a result of the Memorandum of Understanding followed by a Joint-Venture Agreement signed between State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) & the members of the National Chamber of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of Sri Lanka (NCPM) in 2017. At present, 15- 20% of the total local drug requirement is fulfilled by SPMC, joint venture partners of SPMC – under strict adherence to quality standards stipulated by the SPMC and other homegrown manufacturers.

Pharmaceutical self-sufficiency falls in line with the national priority of retaining foreign currency in the country. Empowering local pharma is a win-win for all parties involved because it gives citizens better access to Government (SPMC) approved high quality medicine for affordable prices while generating occupational opportunities for local youth. In order to achieve self-sustainability local industry would require FDIs which would in turn bring international technology & know-how to Sri Lanka paving the way for the country to emerge as a ‘pharma hub’ capitalizing on the country’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean. The construction of three ‘pharma zones’ has already commenced in Anuradhapura, Hambantota & Millawa intending to attract such investments. The Millawa SPMC zone, largest of the three, is slated to house four state-of-the-art factories within it. The President of NCPM Dr. Lohitha Samarawickrema in a letter to media dated August 4 however said that the biggest impediment for yielding the optimum benefit from this joint venture is misinformation. He went on to say that contradictory reports create a sense of anxiety among the Sri Lankan public as well as demotivate potential local & foreign investors. According to NCPM President, up to 80-85% of the local production catering to ~15% of the total demand is supplied by SPMC joint venture stakeholders. The stakeholders collectively manufacture over 300 varieties of drugs which are then quality-tested and distributed through the state manufacturer (SPMC). He said the success of this Public-Private Partnership could augur well for the country’s economy as well as the general wellbeing of citizens and thus should not be stigmatized without a fair assessment. Given the strategic location of Sri Lanka, Dr. Samarawickrema went on to add that Sri Lanka was being seriously considered to be developed as a hub for vaccine manufacturing with Asian and African markets in mind. In that regard, a feasibility study is already underway to establish a vaccine manufacturing enterprise as a joint venture between Sri Lanka’s Kelun Life Sciences and China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. The local partner of this venture is the first homegrown manufacturer of saline & is credited with propelling Sri Lanka to full self-sufficiency in same. It has been reported that since the beginning of Covid-19, 200 new vaccine manufacturers have joined the production pipeline. The United States of America, Canada, Brazil and Mexico are considered the top vaccine manufacturers while some Latin American countries are among the Top 20 ranked vaccine manufacturers with self-sufficiency up to about 72%.

This NCPM-SPMC venture is especially meaningful considering that it served to positively disrupt the state monopoly on pharmaceutical drugs thereby ushering in new possibilities and opportunities for private sector stakeholders for productive collaboration. The Chamber firmly believes Pharma Industry’s initiative to work closely with the private sector sets a welcome precedent for other state sector enterprises, too, to follow suit. Combining the State sector’s integrity and welfare-mindedness with the Private sector’s efficiency and ingenuity can elevate the local pharma sector from self-sufficiency to unprecedented heights from a trade standpoint. Pharma has immense potential to become one of the top foreign revenue earners for Sri Lanka in the ensuing years with due patronage from the State.



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NCE highlights costs of Customs officers’ trade union action

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‘The recent actions taken by the Sri Lanka Customs Officers Union, including a two-day sick leave campaign and work-to-rule initiatives, have had profound implications across Sri Lanka’s business community, particularly affecting exporters and importers. These actions were initiated due to perceived grievances and unmet demands from the Customs Officers Union on various issues, the National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka (NCE) is quoted as saying in a press release.

The release adds: ‘Jayantha Karunaratne, president of the National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka highlighted the significant disruptions caused by these actions. He emphasized that the work-to-rule approach has resulted in substantial delays in clearing imported goods at ports and checkpoints, causing disruptions in production schedules and logistical operations. These delays have particularly impacted exporters, who face stringent deadlines to fulfill international orders, leading to strained relationships with overseas buyers and potential financial penalties for missed deliveries.

‘Additionally, these disruptions have imposed additional costs on businesses. Importers have incurred demurrage charges due to extended delays in clearing shipments, impacting profitability and operational efficiency. For exporters handling perishable goods like seafood and fresh produce, delays have posed substantial challenges, sometimes resulting in significant financial losses and resource wastage from spoiled goods.

‘The NCE underscored Customs’ critical role in facilitating trade and economic activity in Sri Lanka, stressing that efficient and predictable Customs processes are crucial for maintaining the competitiveness of Sri Lankan businesses globally. Given that exports are pivotal to Sri Lanka’s economy, disruptions to Customs operations can have far-reaching impacts on economic growth, employment, and overall national prosperity.

‘Expressing serious concern about potential escalations, the NCE warned that prolonged strikes or ongoing disruptions could further destabilize business confidence and investor sentiment. They urged swift and constructive dialogue between the Customs Officers’ Union and relevant authorities to address grievances and find mutually beneficial solutions. Restoring normalcy and reliability to Customs operations, they emphasized, is imperative to support the resilience and growth of Sri Lanka’s export sector amid challenging global economic conditions.

‘In addition to operational disruptions, exporters are increasingly voicing frustration and concerns about Sri Lanka’s future business environment. Many are contemplating relocating operations to countries offering more stable and predictable trade conditions. This potential exodus poses significant economic risks, including job losses, reduced export revenues, and diminished investor confidence.

‘Shiham Marikar, Secretary General/CEO of NCE, stressed the urgent need for Sri Lanka to address these challenges promptly to retain and attract businesses. He emphasized the importance of creating a supportive environment for exporters characterized by efficient Customs processes, regulatory stability, and supportive government policies. Such an environment is crucial for retaining existing exporters and attracting new investments, thereby fostering economic growth and enhancing competitiveness in global markets.

‘Highlighting the competitive nature of the global economy, the NCE emphasized the necessity for Sri Lanka to maintain a reliable and efficient trade infrastructure to remain competitive internationally. Addressing exporter concerns and ensuring a stable business environment should be a top priority for policymakers and stakeholders alike.

‘It is crucial for the government to take swift action to prevent recurring disruptions caused by the Customs Officers’ Union. The recent disruptions have disproportionately affected Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which are the backbone of Sri Lanka’s economy. SMEs, operating with smaller margins and less flexibility, are particularly vulnerable to delays and uncertainties in trade operations.

‘These disruptions not only impact daily SME operations but also undermine their competitiveness in domestic and international markets. Many SMEs rely heavily on timely imports and efficient exports to sustain operations, making disruptions detrimental to their growth and viability. Prolonged instability in trade operations risks SMEs relocating or downsizing operations in Sri Lanka, posing significant threats to employment, economic growth, and overall stability.

‘The NCE urged the government to implement robust measures to prevent future disruptions, including constructive dialogue with Customs officers and reforms enhancing Customs efficiency and predictability. Creating a stable and supportive business environment is crucial for protecting SMEs and fostering their growth, thereby contributing to Sri Lanka’s economic resilience and prosperity’.

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Elevating customer experiences, Sampath Bank partners with Royal Colombo Golf Club

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The team from Royal Colombo Golf Club, including Amrith De Soysa – Captain, Gehan Siribaddanan – Vice Captain, Ms. Geera Gajamugan – Director of Administration and Shiran D. Rahuman – Manager of Marketing & Membership Services, stands on the left. De Soysa is seen receiving the main sponsorship from Ms, Ayodhya Iddawela – Managing Director of Sampath Bank PLC, surrounded by Tharaka Ranwala, SDGM – Marketing, Customer Care and Card Centre, Pujitha Rajapaksa, Chief Manager – Marketing and Shantha Kalawitigoda, Manager – Events & Activations.

Sampath Bank is pleased to announce its sponsorship of the prestigious July Monthly Medal Event at the Royal Colombo Golf Club (RCGC), scheduled for the 12th and 13th of July 2024. The sponsorship was formalised during a cheque-handing ceremony on the 10th of July, marking a significant collaboration between Sampath Bank and the RCGC.

The July Monthly Medal Event is a highlight on the golfing calendar, attracting over 300 golfers from across the country. The event will be held over two days, culminating in an award ceremony on the second day. Sampath Bank’s involvement acknowledges its commitment to fostering customer satisfaction and providing exceptional experiences for its valued customers.

Participants in the event will enjoy a variety of activities, including a golf practice session with coaching, the main golf tournament, and an exclusive Cheese & Wine evening on the first day for Sampath Bank customers. Following the two-day tournament, there will be a grand award ceremony and a cocktail event to honour the winners. This initiative not only promotes golf but also provides a unique platform for high-net-worth individuals to engage in a distinguished social setting.

Commenting on the sponsorship, Tharaka Ranwala, Senior Deputy General Manager Marketing, Customer Care & Card Centre, said, “Sampath Bank has always been a strong supporter of all sports, though golf has traditionally been less highlighted, despite its popularity among elite and high-net-worth customers within the banking industry. Sponsoring this event aligns perfectly with our new vision and strategy, which emphasises a greater focus on corporate customers and high-net-worth individuals. Although this is our first partnership with the Royal Colombo Golf Club, we bring extensive experience from our previous collaborations with the Tamil Golf Association’s events in the UK and Canada.”

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Asiri Hospitals and NITF sign landmark agreement to provide tangible healthcare benefits for all Agrahara members

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Asiri Group of Hospitals, trusted for high standards in patient-centered care has signed a landmark agreement with the National Insurance Trust Fund (NITF), to provide comprehensive concessions to all government employees through the Agrahara Medical Insurance scheme.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Dr. Manjula Karunaratne, Director/Group CEO of Asiri Hospitals, and Gamani N. Liyanarachchi, CEO of NITF, during a ceremony held recently.

The event was attended by several distinguished participants from both organizations. Representing NITF were Sagala Abhayawickrama, Chairperson, Samil Thushara, AGM Operations, Nimali Pathirana, AGM Insurance, Prathibha Welikanna, Asst. Manager Legal, Nuwan Dissanayake, Asst. Manager Marketing, Dammika Weerakoon, Acting AGM Finance.

Asiri Hospitals was represented by Nihal Ratnayake, Director Operations Asiri Central Hospital, Indresh Fernando, Chief Process Officer, Bhathiya Jayasinghe, Group Head, Business Development, Dhananjaya Bandara Dela, Head of Business Development, Government Sector.

The enduring partnership aims to offer tangible healthcare benefits and the renowned comprehensive healthcare services offered by Asiri Hospitals to all NITF Agrahara members. It marks a major milestone in Asiri Hospitals’ commitment to build long-term collaborations that benefits the community. It also reaffirms Asiri Hospitals’ position as a trusted healthcare provider ensuring healthcare is more accessible, affordable, while uplifting the living standards of the public service.

Importantly, Agrahara members are eligible to seek treatment from any hospital in the Asiri group or its laboratories. The agreement also introduces a cashless admission scheme for NITF members, simplifying the process and enabling seamless access to Asiri Hospitals’ services without the need for upfront payments. Members can benefit from waived admission fees, reducing the financial burden for those seeking medical care. Room rates are also heavily discounted.

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