Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

The lone medical shop in Samdrupjongkhar thromde often remains empty and closed these days.

Lhaki Pharmacy proprietor had difficulty in importing medicines since the border gates were closed in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

The shop’s owner, HK Ghalay, said he keeps it closed most of the time because there is nothing left to sell in the shop.

“I sent back the consignments worth Nu 33,000 from the border gate as the customs officials did not allow me to bring in last month.”

He said that doctors sent patients to buy medicines from the shop, but he didn’t have them.

However, Ghalay said about 22 medicinal items would reach within one or two days from the Phuentsholing medical store. “I have never been through such a situation in the 29 years of my career.”

A resident, Sonam Choden, 32, said she went to buy medicine as she had earache but there was no medicine in the shop. She said that the shop had been running out of the medical items since the closure of the border gates in March.

“We do not understand why the shopkeeper could not import the medicinal items when the vegetables and grocery items, among others are allowed to import at least three to four times a week,” Sonam Choden said.

Another resident, Dendup, 75, was frustrated as he had to return empty handed.

“Tobacco products import is allowed by paying 100 percent sales tax, but we don’t understand why the medicines are not allowed. It is important for health during such situations,” Dendup said.  “We sometimes feel there is no free and fair, and check and balance in the system.”

Residents said it would help if the concerned authorities could facilitate and allow the import of medicines. “We should have at least two or three medical shops in the thromde so that they could easily avail the services,” a resident said.

Customs officials said the consignment was sent back to the suppliers because the importer failed to provide the permit issued by the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA).

“We don’t restrict the import of any medicines approved by the DRA,” a customs official said.

DRA’s officials said that an import authorisation from the DRA should be obtained before importing any medicine while the authorisation is generally issued to the registered medical drugs, and the DRA facilitates the import of other drugs during emergencies.

They said an import authorisation is issued after verifying the medicine list and the importer, adding that the expiry dates are also verified, among others.

“Medicines which are banned in the country and irrational combinations are not allowed.”

“It is important to process import authorisation from DRA as the concerned importers would be accountable should there be a failure in quality and any serious reactions, among others,” an official said.