On August 19, Panama’s Minister of Health, Rosario Turner Montenegro, presented to the National Assembly a bill to amend articles 40 and 51 of Law 1 on medicines. The articles deal directly with the purchase of medicines from abroad (up to 90% of Panama’s pharmaceutical market is dependent on imported medicines) and the bill seeks to ensure that quality, timeliness and cost efficacy are not compromised during times of critical shortage in the country.

Specifically, the bill asks for suppliers to present free sale certifications from countries with high standards (according to global ranking from organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO, and the World Health Organization, WHO). Changes to article 51 also include being able to purchase generic drugs, from countries recommended by WHO as high standard countries, with a suitability certificate and certificate of bioequivalence. The bill also calls for the establishment of a national governing body to ensure all purchasing processes between suppliers and private companies are in compliance and quality standards are followed through in addition to timely payment.

These are promising changes for an administration that in the past has been criticized for delays in granting permits for importing medicines and medical supplies. Panama remains the largest importer of pharmaceutical drugs and medicines in Central America with an import figure of $928 million in 2018. Local demand is high and the government is increasing access to healthcare for the majority of the population under a universal healthcare policy. Eighty percent of the population lives in urban areas contributing to ease of access, GDP has been growing steadily over the past years and the economy is one of the strongest and most stable in the region.

As the sector further develops, Panama aims to become a pharmaceutical hub for the region. Considering Panama’s ideal geographic location between North and South America, maritime connectivity along the Panama Canal and Tocumen International Airport, which is the largest airport in the region, these factors make it a business-friendly place along with tax and fiscal incentives. Companies choose Panama to not only consolidate operations in Central America but also to invest in their own expansion into Latin America.