LAHORE: Hundreds of medicines, including life-saving drugs, have gone out of the reach of poor patients after the manufacturers increased prices by over 100 per cent during the past couple of months.
Most of these medicines are prescribed widely for the treatment of diarrhoea, fever, acidity, pain, infection, gynaecological complications, cardiac diseases, etc.
The situation has been heading from bad to worse since the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) started showing lenience over the matter.
A pack of widely-recommended Neurobion injection, carrying batch number 07089, was available at Rs300 in May. The same medicine was sent to the market in June (batch 07117), carrying a Rs555 price tag (approximately 95pc increase).
Stomach medicine No-SPA’s 40mg, 20-tablet pack sold at Rs53.63 in March and is now available at Rs144.
Official documents and market sources depict an alarming situation for patients as the cost of medicines was officially increased by Drap four times between June and August, but the pharmaceutical companies raised them five times.
The uncalled-for hike is going unnoticed as the federal and provincial governments are concerned.
In reply to a letter sent by the Punjab government, the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination admitted that the medicines of some multinational companies were overpriced.
“The provincial government may take action against the pharmaceutical companies for contravention of the provision of the Drugs Act 1976 and rules framed there under. However, in compliance with the honourable court, such an action may strictly be taken observing due course of law,” the federal ministry said.It attached with the letter information about the price difference and the increase made by the multinational companies that ranged between 10 and 45pc.
A pharmacist, Noor Mohammad Mehar, who had worked as medico-legal officer for the United States Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and also served at several MNCs, claimed that patients in Pakistan were paying approximately Rs2 billion daily due to the price hike.
“I, with the help of my colleagues in the four provinces, drafted an analysis on the basis of the frequent medicine price increase made during last two months,” he said, adding that Drap’s Drug Pricing Committee (DPC) had held marathon meetings since June to review the rates.
Sharing official documents, he said the committee met on June 27-28 and allowed price increases under the cover of hardship cases. Similarly, on July 14 it increased the price of 3,000 products.
Again in an Aug 5-6 meeting, the DPC allowed cost increase of registered drugs by 2.02 and 2.86pc.
“The 2.02pc price increase was allowed for the drugs registered in the Schedule II and 2.86pc for those registered in the Schedule I,” Mr Mehar said.
Drap Chief Executive Officer Aslam Afghani confirmed that local and multinational companies had increased the prices manifold.
“When we introduced the Drugs Policy 2015, we linked prices with the consumer price index and demanded from the pharmaceutical companies complete data with authentic information regarding their hardship cases,” he said.
The situation had aggravated since then, he said, adding that in return the pharmaceutical companies had started using other tactics to pinch the regulatory authority.
He said that under the policy Drap had to dispose of hardship cases within nine months and instead of responding to the authority in accordance with the rules, the companies approached the Sindh High Court in January and got a stay order after increasing prices up to two-fold.
Initially, 11 companies moved the court and later 23 more joined them after making hefty price increases, he said.
Mr Afghani said 10 of those companies were multinational. Drap, however, continued to hold DPC meetings to dispose of the hardship cases.
“So far we have disposed of 1,050 cases, including 550 of scheduled drugs and 500 non-scheduled, allowing price increases as per policy,” he said, adding that the DPC had the mandate to allow up to 8pc price increase.
Sale of the drugs at rates hiked by wore than this percentage would be considered illegal, he said.
“We are aggressively pursuing the case in the SHC to get the stay vacated and I hope that the matter will be resolved in the coming hearings,” he said.
Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2016