Puerto Rico’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector took a major hit from Hurricanes Irma and María in September, but are in recovery mode and back in production to ensure continuity in the availability of medications in Puerto Rico and globally, Felipe Palacios, president of the Pharmaceutical Industry Association said Wednesday.
“It’s important to remember that our commitment is not just to Puerto Rico; we’re all international companies and we export our products to more than 100 countries,” he said. “We understand our commitment to Puerto Rico but we understand our global responsibility.”
PIA, as the trade group is known, comprises 14 of about 20 pharmaceutical companies established in Puerto Rico. The members have more than 20 plants combined that generate about 20,000 direct and 80,000 indirect jobs in Puerto Rico.
The sector is highly important to the government, as through Law 154, it shores up about $2 billion in tax revenue from the 20 pharma companies doing business in Puerto Rico, or about 30 percent of the island’s GDP. The law established in 2010 places an excise tax on sales generated by the local subsidiaries to their international parent companies.
“I’m very proud to say that we’ve been working very closely with the government of Puerto Rico and they have given a certain level of priority to the industry because it’s not just important for the health and the healthcare sector of the island, it’s also important for the economic development of the island,” said Palacios.
While Hurricanes Irma and María dealt a devastating blow to virtually all sectors of the economy, pharmaceutical companies are recovering, he said.
“That recovery is a step-by-step process. It’s important to mention that a lot of our companies on the island have already been energized and are already operating and again, it’s a gradual improvement,” he said.
“So, when the storms came in, some of the companies had to reduce operations, but we’re recovering now,” he added. “It’s a process and we have to follow that process because we have to protect the quality standards of our medicines to ensure the safety of our patients. We need to continue to recover to get to that new normal.”
His comments were partly a reaction to concerns the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, expressed in late September regarding the possibility of a shortage in critical drugs produced on the island.
The agency worked with local pharmaceuticals before, during and after the storms to figure out whether manufacturing facilities could continue to function on power generators.
“I think the FDA’s Gottlieb did his analysis, his assessment and he provided his opinion of what he believes could be a concern. I think it’s a very valid concern. However, the most important thing I can tell you about that is that the recovery process has started,” Palacios said.
On Wednesday, PIA announced the start of an educational campaign to urge Puerto Rico residents to take care of their health during the post-María recovery period.
Under the theme “Taking control of your health is very important, act now!” the trade group will work with the Puerto Rico Health Department and health professionals to deliver messages focusing on prevention, access to healthcare providers, vaccinations, sticking to prescribed medications and addressing children’s health.
The four-week, $50,000 public service effort will run for four weeks.