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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday issued a notice to the head of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) in response to a petition alleging that the contract awarded to a company for the introduction of the barcode system had violated rules.

The petition also alleged that the company would charge pharmaceutical companies rates of its own choosing for printing barcodes. An IHC single bench consisting of Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani has summoned the Drap CEO on Nov 29.

After Drap completed its work on the barcode system, the federal cabinet approved the proposed system this April. The project would introduce a global unique identification code system which would allow buyers who possess smartphones to verify medicines and their prices. The system would also make it possible to track the movement of medicines and recall them in case of a complaint.

Supreme Court advocate Khawaja Mohammad Farooq, who filed the petition, told Dawn that the relevant rules in this case were the Drugs (Labelling and Packing) Rules 1986.

“According to Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules, contracts can only be awarded through tender, but Drap awarded the contract through a statutory regulatory order (SRO) to a company and has even left it on the discretion of the company to charge any rate from pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

“Moreover, a barcode gives out the formula of the drug and the generic and brand names. Since it is operated online, it exposes the manufacturer to the danger of [the barcode being hacked] which may facilitate a manufacturer of spurious drugs, he said.

“Drug manufacturers are required to pay charges for printing of the barcode on medicine packing at such rate as may benefit the company at its own discretion. The charges so paid to the company would result in an increase of the price of the concerned drug, and thus will be a burden on the pockets of patients.

“No instructions or rules have been made or published prescribing the rate that the company is entitled to charge from manufacturing companies,” Mr Farooq said, adding that notices have also been issued to the company and the Ministry of National Health Services.

Drap CEO Dr Mohammad Aslam told Dawn that the company that has been permitted to print barcodes has worked in 100 countries, which will make it possible for consumers to verify medicines outside of the country as well.

The company will work on a no-profit-no-loss basis, and will charge services charges, so there was no need to go for the PPRA rules,” he added.

“However, the company will charge pharmaceutical companies an annual maintenance fee. The software will be free for consumers so that they can download it to their mobile phones,” he said.

He added: “I believe that those who want to sell spurious and smuggled drugs are against the barcode system, as it will eradicate the business of spurious and smuggled drugs.”

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2017