Interview: Ali Bennis
What impact has Morocco’s drug price reduction policy had on the pharmaceuticals industry?
ALI BENNIS: In 2013 Morocco implemented a policy to reduce the cost of a number of important pharmaceutical goods. This was done with a view to enhancing access to medicine and boosting domestic consumption. The policy has affected the sector at different levels, but as the average price for most of our products has always been affordable, the impact has been manageable for our laboratories, despite a drop in benefits for the industry. In navigating these changes, we implemented new strategies to cope with the price issue, including a better focus on innovative patent medicines. A restructuring of our sales force was also conducted in order to better address the needs of health professionals, and we worked closely with our international partners to ensure a smooth price transition.
In this way, the objective has been to actively participate in the evolution of the Moroccan pharmaceutical sector through a commitment to cutting-edge research and development in order to have more innovative products with high added value. In contrast, some international companies decided to review their business models or to downsize their activities by reducing their headcounts.
With the expansion of health insurance schemes, what is the outlook for pharmaceuticals?
BENNIS: The national health insurance scheme consists of the Mandatory Health Insurance Plan for both private and public sector employees, the implementation of the Medical Assistance Regime for low income populations and the extension of coverage to independent workers, liberal professionals and students. This has obviously increased the percentage of Moroccans with access to health care and has had a significant impact on the pharmaceuticals industry, mainly in driving up sales in the generic drug segment.
This growth in the consumption of medicines due to the extension of social security coverage encourages us to invest in our manufacturing base to enable us to achieve strong performances in terms of production volumes. Moreover, many international companies would like to benefit from our advanced level of technology and know-how to produce large quantities in our Moroccan manufacturing facility.
What are the most significant challenges for pharmaceuticals manufacturers in Morocco, given the relatively less dynamic market?
BENNIS: A major challenge is that medicinal consumption per citizen is still low compared with other countries, and therefore the market is not growing tremendously. The generalised health insurance scheme is in its early stages of implementation for some categories, but with all the measures that have already been taken, we expect health access will improve over the coming years. In addition, activity is still mainly concentrated in big cities. However, international expansion and the development of new export avenues helps in navigating these obstacles.
In terms of exports, which markets hold the highest potential for pharmaceuticals manufacturers?
BENNIS: We strongly believe in South-South Cooperation, so we have developed markets for our products in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and most recently Latin America, which is a promising market. However, the major challenge is dealing with the regulatory procedures for drug registration, which are sometimes time-consuming. The production of vast quantities with an extremely fast delivery schedule is another challenge. In this regard, Morocco enjoys an ideal geostrategic location at the crossroads of continents and is a good platform for exports; it is a hub close to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the US and benefits from a range of free trade agreements.
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