N.K. drug company urges aid donors to `buy local`

Korea Herald
Chris Gelkin

“It’s not just about making money, at least not from our perspective as a producer,” declared Felix Abt, president of the Pyongyang-based pharmaceutical company PyongSu Pharma. “The profit margins are very small. It is more about supplying a necessary and quality product at a price people can afford.”

Abt was in Seoul earlier this week meeting with South Korean pharmaceutical companies and aid organizations. On the table was a unique opportunity that would allow them to expand their existing humanitarian work, while at the same time helping to lay a solid foundation for the future of the pharmaceutical sector in North Korea.

“One of the main purposes of my visit here is to meet with the people who donate drugs and medicines to North Korea, or their agents who are based here,” Abt told The Korea Herald. The “frontier-businessman” believes substantial savings could be realized if the donor had the drugs produced locally, in North Korea, rather than purchasing them here in the South or overseas and then having them shipped in.

“We have lower production costs in the North, and of course there would be savings on transportation. All of these cost savings would translate into more money being made available for the actual provision of drugs. And after all, that is the whole point of the exercise, isn`t it?” Abt said, posing a very pertinent question.

For each donated dollar, for each dollar spent, he explained, more medicines would actually reach the people who need them.

“So that, from a humanitarian position at the very least, is a very compelling reason for them to buy from us or have us produce them and then organize the distribution.”

PyongSu has been gaining experience through contract manufacturing for charity organizations, donors and pharmaceutical companies, but Abt says there is plenty of scope to do more.

“We have a total staff of about 30 running one full shift,” Abt said, “and obviously we have capacity to expand that.”

Abt said in addition to helping even more North Korean patients in hospitals and clinics throughout the country, aid organizations could also help raise the quality standards of the local pharmaceutical industry.

“Just shipping aid here is all well and good,” Abt explained, “but it has the danger of creating a culture of dependency. So rather than, for example, just giving them fish, we should give them a fishing rod and teach them how to fish.”

By expanding local production in terms of quantity and variety, Abt said, donors would be helping the people to learn how to stand on their own feet.

“This should be particularly interesting for pharmaceutical companies based here in the South,” he said, “it is absolutely in their long-term interests to see a pharmaceutical sector in the North that is developed and meets international standards which could later become a strong and important partner for South Korean companies.”

PyongSu recently underwent an international inspection and has been approved as a producer that meets the highest standards of pharmaceutical producers worldwide.

The company was launched in the summer of 2004 in a joint venture between the Ministry of Public Health and a group of foreign investors. By the end of 2006, PyongSu was producing a range of medications including painkillers and antibiotics among others.

The company`s mission was to reach and maintain production quality and service standards comparable to any pharmaceutical producer elsewhere in the world.

“We are making a direct contribution to the improvement of the local pharmaceutical sector,” Abt said, “through training, education, and our sharing of knowledge with medical professionals and staff at all levels throughout the DPRK.”

PyongSu pharmacists meet regularly with staff from hospitals and clinics to fully understand their needs, and provide them with up to date information on the latest drugs.

Abt said PyongSu has its finger on the pulse of the medical sector in the DPRK, and is in a unique position to serve humanitarian and aid organizations by producing drugs on their behalf and distributing them, “to those who are in need of them.”


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