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First pharmaceutical factory opens in Syrian opposition area

The first pharmaceutical factory in the opposition-controlled areas in northwestern Syria was inaugurated, in a bid to address the lack of medicines and high prices.
An employee of a Syrian pharmaceutical factory shows packs of the hydroxychloroquine drug in the government-controlled city of Homs, Syria, April 28, 2020.

ALEPPO, Syria — The Sharan subdistrict of Afrin in the northern countryside of Aleppo opened March 30 the first pharmaceutical factory in the areas controlled by the Syrian opposition in northwestern Syria. The project managers seek to cover part of the area's needs of medicines, and they promise to increase production lines and drug varieties in the coming period.

Deputy head of the local council in Afrin Mohammed Sheikh Rashid; the deputy governor of Turkey's Hatay province, whose name was not mentioned; the head of the Afrin Health Directorate affiliated with the Syrian opposition's self-styled interim government, Ahmed Haji Hassan; and several legal figures in the area attended the opening.

Khaled al-Khatib, a doctor living in the northern countryside of Aleppo who is a partner in the newly established pharmaceutical factory named Sky Pharma, told Al-Monitor, “The drug factory is a private company, owned by a group of Syrian partners, made up of industrialists, pharmacists and chemists who have experience in the field of manufacturing and marketing medicinal and pharmaceutical products.”

He said, “The idea for a drug factory project began in early 2021, as we studied the market in opposition areas in the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib. We found that some medicines are missing or if found, their prices would be too high for the locals’ purchasing power. This encouraged us to move forward in implementing the idea and establishing a laboratory to manufacture medicines.”

Khatib noted that the partners funded the establishment of the factory, saying, “The laboratory is licensed by the Turkish Ministry of Health, and we also obtained a license from the Afrin Health Directorate and the local council of Sharan where the laboratory was built. Our company has established relations and cooperation protocols with Turkish pharmaceutical companies and laboratories approved by the Turkish Ministry of Health. A specialized committee from the ministry’s Medicines and Equipment Industry Corporation visited our laboratory twice during construction to ensure our compliance with international standards in the pharmaceutical industry.”

He added, “Our company has a laboratory equipped with all necessary devices and personnel to examine the raw materials and medicines, and we cooperate with certified Turkish laboratories to examine our medicines to ensure quality and increase the reliability of our products.”

Khatib pointed out, “The pharmaceutical factory has launched four production lines manufacturing tablets, capsules, suppositories and syrups for children. Five medicinal items will also be produced for children — anti-cough, anti-influenza, fever reducers, anti-flatulence and pain relieve medicines.” 

He added, “The factory’s daily production is 40,000 tablet bags, 12,000 syrup bottles, 25,000 capsule sachets and 20,000 suppositories packages.”

He explained that the drugs will be sold in all opposition-controlled areas in the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib, including the Operation Peace Spring area east of the Euphrates, via transit through Turkish territory since these areas are separated by the areas under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. “During the next six months we plan to increase our production by manufacturing 90 medicinal items,” he said.

Khatib noted, “The current area of the laboratory is 1,000 square meters [0.2 acres], and we plan to expand in the coming months to 4,000 square meters [1 acre].”

Speaking about the source of the pharmaceutical laboratory machines, he said, “We bought some from Turkey and others from India and China, while our raw materials for manufacturing medicines come from Turkey and India. The factory currently accommodates 25 male and female workers from different specialties, including pharmacists and chemists.”

Syrians in opposition-controlled areas in northwestern Syria suffer under the chaos of drug trade and the absence of oversight. Syrians struggle to secure reliable medicine at cheap prices, amid the lack of certain types of medicines for chronic and other intractable diseases.

Mohammed Siddiq, a pharmacist in the countryside of Aleppo, told Al-Monitor, “The majority of the medicines available in the pharmacies in opposition-controlled areas is imported from the Syrian regime’s areas in Aleppo through smuggling corridors in northern Aleppo; some were made in Aleppo and Damascus. But the bulk is from Chinese or Indian sources, which are unreliable and are not subject to the necessary standards and oversight. Many types of medicines are also imported from Turkey at very high prices.”

Siddiq called on those in charge of the new drug factory in Afrin to expand production and manufacture many types of high-quality medicines to be sold at prices that the poor in the area can afford.

Hassan, head of the Afrin Health Directorate, told Al-Monitor, “We are suffering from an actual drug crisis in the opposition areas, and we hope that the pharmaceutical factory will contribute to providing medicines at lower prices to ease the burdens on citizens. We have a good human cadre that can manufacture medicines, and we hope that the laboratory will be a success and be able to cover the largest part of our area’s needs for medicine.”

He added, “The Health Directorate in Afrin is following up on the subject of analyses and the quality of medicine in the newly opened laboratory, in coordination with the Turkish Health Directorate in Hatay province. Raw materials and medicines will be periodically analyzed in specialized laboratories in Turkey to increase reliability and deliver safe and high-quality medicines to the people in the area.”

Hassan concluded, “The Afrin Health Directorate is reviewing a request submitted by a group of people to build a new laboratory also in the Afrin area, and they will obtain a license should their request meet the conditions. We encourage having several drug factories because this creates competition from which citizens would benefit by having access to good medicine at an affordable price."

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