A well-informed society crucial to a better well-being: IDS group CEO
Health and well-being is undisputedly one of the most critical components of an individual; as the adage goes, health is wealth. That shouldn’t be much of a problem here in the UAE, which is not just at the forefront of promoting a healthy lifestyle for its residents, but is also poised to be the hub of the region’s pharmaceutical industry. The sector’s players must – and it goes without saying – contribute the best they can offer.
“Today’s consumers have become much more health-conscious and are very well-informed owing to the easy accessibility of information online,” Ahmed Tabari, group Chief Executive Officer of Al Ittihad Drug Store, or IDS, told Khaleej Times in an interview.
He cautions, though, that too much may have an adverse effect – and this is where a couple of the responsibilities of the pharmaceutical sector come into play: disseminating the right information and being at the service of customers.
“This information explosion can represent a certain challenge as consumers tend to have easy information to product information and sometimes take a decision without expert knowledge,” Tabari said. “Moreover, consumers also become loyal to particular brands and therefore may not be able to realise the full potential of latest medical innovations in other brands.”
IDS, which was established in 1968, is a leading pharmaceutical distributor in the UAE and is the distributor of a wide range of products. It has a comprehensive network supplying hospitals, clinics and pharmacies to supermarkets, self-service kiosks and petrol stations.
In its recent first-quarter financial report, the company posted a 29 per cent growth in total sales turnover compared to the same period in 2014 – a result that outperformed the overall industry, which grew 12 per cent. Its consumer division leapt 43 per cent during the quarter.
IDS also surpassed its own quarterly records with over 1.3 million units packed, shipped and delivered to the market.
UAE Pharma sector robust
Tabari points out that in the past decade, the UAE’s pharmaceutical industry has nearly doubled hitting Dh7.4 billion in 2014 with a growth rate of 12 per cent over 2013. This is on the back of several factors, including a growing population mandatory health insurance and the growth of regional medical tourism, among others.
So it’s no surprise that at a meeting of local, regional and internal drug firms at the UAE Ministry of Health last year, the country was selected as the hub in the Mediterranean and North Africa regions. This will “positively” impact supply, distribution and pricing of medicines.
The ministry, Tabari stresses, has gone all out to support the sector: it was able to achieve considerable price cuts for 7,504 drugs across four phased initiatives, reductions that ranged from one to 60 per cent. These actions have greatly benefitted patients, especially those suffering from chronic, viral, neurological and cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
“A growing trend for well-being and healthcare awareness has placed supplements and nutritional -products on the path of strong growth,” Tabari says. “We believe this sector is on the rise by 12-14 per cent a year.”
Citing IMS data, he added that the market share in these segments was Dh140 million in 2014 against Dh123 million a year ago. Per IDS’ projections, however, the actual amount is possibly higher.
Another notable industry trend, Tabari says, is a huge growth in the generic drug market. This sector represents 30 per cent of the total pharmaceutical market in terms of units and 20 per cent in terms of value. Over the last two years, the generic market has been growing by 20 per cent versus the overall market’s 12 per cent growth.
Tabari says that aside from the verticals it serves, IDS is exploring opportunities to expand its distribution channel through salons and beauty centers. The company is also keen on looking into potential neighbouring markets to widen its footprint and build brand equity.
IDS’ experience and expertise has “given it a step ahead”; as such, the launch of its own pharmaceutical manufacturing facility.
“Pharmax will be based out of the Dubai Biotechnology & Research Park. The initial focus will be on chronic diseases such as metabolic cardiovascular and gastro-intesitnal diseases,” Tabari says, adding that the facility is estimated to be completed by early 2016.
Using special product demonstrations for doctors and healthcare professionals – who in turn educate consumers – social media networks and media outreach activities, IDS wants to make sure consumers are well-informed.
“IDS is a partner of choice within the pharmaceutical industry, as it provides comprehensive solutions,” Tabari says.
“This has given us an edge.”
Alvin R. Cabral