Ministry unable to convince pharmaceutical firms to reduce prices

ISLAMABAD: Shahid Mehmood, 50, needs two tablets of 50mg/850mg of Galvus Met every day in order to regulate his blood sugar level. He says the increase in medicine prices has put a financial strain on him.

“Before the price increase, 30 Galvus Met tablets would cost me Rs1,370 and their price has now increased to Rs1,576. Though the price of the tablets has only increased by Rs200, the hike means all of my medicines now cost more and I have to pay Rs5,000 per month for the drugs now,” he said.

Mohammad Zahid, another resident of the capital, said he used NO-SAP 40mg tablets for his abdominal spasm, the price of which has increased by almost 300pc. “Salaries are usually increased by 10 to 15pc each year but if the prices of medicine are increased at this rate it will be impossible for most of the citizens to afford treatment,” he said.

Official says prices will be decreased after court decision

The owner of a medical store in Rawalpindi, Sheraz Ahmed, told Dawn that batch number WN013 of NO-SAP 40mg cost Rs53.63 when it came to the market in April and that batch number WN017 of the same medicines cost Rs144 when it came to the market in June. Those who have regular prescriptions were aware of the prices, Mr Ahmed said, and that it became difficult to explain price increases to regular customers. He said at times customers thought the medical store must have increased the prices.

“There should be a standard policy of medicine prices, which should be implemented. Doing so is in the interest of the people and medical store owners,” he said.

However, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap), Dr Mohammad Aslam, told Dawn that as per SRO 1103(I)/2006 the companies can sell their registered drugs below the market rate price approved by the federal government.

“Some companies have been selling their products below the approved prices and when they adjust their prices it seems that the prices have been increased but the law allows them to sell on lesser than approved rates,” he said.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) requesting anonymity said it was a proof that the companies managed to get unjustified higher prices because no one can sell medicines below the manufacturing price.

The issue of increased medicine prices started in December last year when some pharmaceutical companies approached the Sindh High Court and sought a stay order for increasing prices, arguing that it was not feasible for them to manufacture medicines at the rate fixed by Drap.

At first, the ministry of NHS did not have a reaction to the issue, which invited criticism, and then started making efforts for reducing the prices.

In February, Drap wrote letters to the health departments across the country saying that the prices of 58 medicines had been increased.

According to the letter, the price of Amoxil 50mg had increased from Rs862 to Rs1,050, that of Betnesol tablets from Rs398 to Rs480, and Motival tablets from Rs210 to Rs285. The price of Polyfax eye ointment 6gm had increased from Rs21 to Rs35, that of Lidosporin ear drops 5ml from Rs21 to Rs30 and Incremin syrup 120ml from Rs39 to Rs50. The Drap CEO said 22 companies had obtained stay orders and increased prices time and again.

“We have been trying to reduce the prices through the courts and according to the drug policy the prices of some drugs have increased by two to three per cent in May but the prices of others have decreased by 30pc. This is because companies introduce drugs in the market at a high price but reduce them by 30pc after four years,” he said. In the courts, the companies said their hardship cases were pending with Drap due to which we had to clear 1,050 pending cases, some of which were rejected,” he explained.

When a company believes that it cannot manufacture a medicine under the given price, it can apply for an increase in prices under the hardship policy.

“As all pending cases have been cleared and a report submitted to the apex court. I believe that the court will announce a decision soon, after which the prices of medicines will be decreased,” Dr Aslam said.

Published in Dawn October 2nd, 2016

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