Institutional barriers and enablers to implementing and complying with internationally accepted quality standards in the local pharmaceutical industry of Pakistan: a qualitative study

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Abstract

Complying with good manufacturing practices (GMP) and ensuring a quality system is integral to production and supply of quality medicines and achieving universal health coverage. This study focus on the local production of medicines in Pakistan, a lower middle-income country that has observed considerable growth in the number of pharmaceutical companies over the past two decades. Against this background, we investigated: (1) How is quality assurance (QA) and GMP compliance understood and acted upon by local pharmaceutical manufacturers?; (2) What are the institutional barriers and enablers for QA and GMP compliance in the local pharmaceutical sector from the perspective of key stakeholders?; and (3) What are the institutional barriers and enablers for strengthening local regulatory capacity to improve QA in the industry in the long term? We used a qualitative study design involving 22 interviews of the drug regulatory bodies (n = 9), academia (n = 3) and local manufacturers (n = 10), identifying key themes in data by thematic analysis. Document analysis was used to collect additional information and supplement the interview data. We identified that manufacturing facilities operated under different GMP standards and interpretations, pointing towards an absence of harmonization in quality standards across the industry. Views diverged about the status of GMP compliance, with interviewees from academia presenting a more critical view compared with regulators who promoted a more positive story. Among the barriers explaining why companies struggled with quality standards, the lack of a mindset promoting quality and safety among profit-oriented manufacturers was prominent. At the federal level, DRAP’s establishment represented an institutional improvement aiming to promote QA through inspections and guidance. While some positive measures to promote quality have been observed, the need for DRAP to strengthen its technical and regulatory capacity, enhance its engagement in international collaboration and learning, and improve transparency and accountability were highlighted. Overall, since the challenges in Pakistan are shared with other low- and middle-income countries with local production, there is a need to commit to international collaborative mechanisms, such as those lead by WHO, on this issue.

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