Anti-ulcer drugs are the top-selling medicines in Bangladesh with sales clocking more than 12 per cent growth annually since 2015 driven by unhealthy food habits, use of excess oil and spices in food preparation and food adulteration.
The widely used drugs brought in Tk 3,419 crore for pharmaceutical companies annually in the five years to June 2020. This means yearly sales have topped Tk 4,200 crore at the current sales growth.
The sales of medicines used to treat cardiovascular problems have risen at the fastest clip at 16 per cent annually as cardiac diseases are on the rise owing to sedentary lifestyles, smoking and diabetes, among other factors.
In a positive development, however, the sales growth of antibiotic drugs has slowed significantly during the period thanks to an increased awareness among patients, according to a research paper of UCB Asset Management.
Medicines used to cure the disorders related to the alimentary tract and metabolism, including anti-ulcer drugs, worth Tk 8,832 crore were sold on average per year during the period, representing 37.50 per cent of the total drug sales.
Esomeprazole was the highest-selling anti-ulcer medicine fetching Tk 1,776 crore, which accounted for 7 per cent of Tk 23,000 crore drugs sold in Bangladesh.
The compound annual growth rate of therapeutic drugs sales was 12.5 per cent, said the UCB Asset Management report, which was based on the pharmaceuticals market data from IQVIA, a US pharma consultancy firm.
In 2015, sales of medicine healing illnesses linked to the alimentary tract and metabolism stood at Tk 4,158 crore and it was 34.80 per cent of the total sales.
"Our unhealthy food habit is pushing the demand for anti-ulcer drugs and metabolism-related medicines high," said Md Mujibur Rahman, a professor at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
"Excessive use of oil and spices create more acid inside the stomach, so people take the drugs whenever they feel any metabolism disorder."
Since consumers find instant results by taking in the medicine, they don't visit doctors. "As a result, they take medicines even though they don't need to or they need something else," said the veteran physician.
Of the Tk 8,832 crore sales of alimentary tract and metabolism class medicines, anti-ulcer drugs netted Tk 3,419 crore. The receipts were 14.70 per cent of the total medicine sales.
"As people's income is rising, the consumption of medicines is growing as well," said Abdul Muktadir, chairman and managing director of Incepta Pharmaceuticals.
Per capita income in Bangladesh rose to $2,591 in the last fiscal year of 2020-21, almost doubling from $1,316 in 2014-15.
"When people's income climbs, they eat good food and maintain hygiene and healthy lifestyles. This improves their health and boosts the immune system so the incidence of infectious diseases reduces," Muktadir said.
The annual growth of antibiotic drugs sales was 2.3 per cent, the lowest among all types of medicines, according to the analysis of UCB Asset Management.
In 2015, antibiotic medicines fetched Tk 2,199 crore or 18.40 per cent of the total sales. The sales amounted to Tk 3,283 crore in 2019-20, which was 14 per cent of the total turnover of the industry.
Muktadir says when life expectancy goes up, non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis also surge.
In Bangladesh, the average life expectancy has increased from 59 years in FY2005-2006 to 72.6 years in FY2019-2020, according to the budget documents of the finance ministry.
Mohammad Mujahidul Islam, executive director for marketing and sales of Eskayef Pharmaceuticals, echoed Muktadir, saying the sales of cardiovascular system-related medicines are rising as the number of old aged people is growing.
"People use social media excessively, which causes depression and makes people less active. This causes the rise of chronic diseases like heart problems and diabetes. This is common worldwide," Islam said.
Sales of medicines used to heal cardiovascular diseases totalled Tk 1,147 crore in 2015, which was 9.60 per cent of the total receipts. It more than doubled to Tk 2,631 crore in 2020 with 11.30 per cent shares in the sales.
About the slowdown of antibiotic medicine consumption, Islam says people have become aware of health hygiene so infectious diseases are on the wane comparatively.
"Most importantly, people are more aware that excessive use of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance."
M Mohibuz Zaman, chief operating officer of ACI Pharmaceuticals, says the use of antibiotics in Bangladesh had surged to an abnormal level.
The government, non-governmental organisations and pharmaceuticals companies are running programmes to raise awareness among people about the rational and proper use of antibiotics, so the growth of sales has slowed, he said.
Medicines related to respiratory problems netted Tk 1,051 crore for the manufacturers in 2015 and the market share was 8.80 per cent.
In 2020, it swelled to Tk 2,282 crore and the market share rose to 9.80 per cent.
"Respiratory problems are common during a certain period of the year owing to seasonal changes, air pollution and seasonal fever," said Zaman.