ISLAMABAD: Although it missed the prime minister’s deadline to reduce medicine prices by Saturday, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has requested an audit of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) since its inception.

In a letter available with Dawn, the ministry has asked the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) for a special audit of the authority from the 2012-13 fiscal year to the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The government has come under harsh criticism because of the sudden hike in medicine prices; in response Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered for prices to be reduced within 72 hours.

In letter to AGP, NHS secretary said a special audit of pricing mechanism would ascertain whether prices are determined justly

The deadline passed on Saturday without prices being lowered.

According to the ministry’s letter, Drap is mandate to regulate allopathic, homeopathic, Unani and herbal drugs, medical devices, medicated cosmetics and other products. It was established under the Drap Act, promulgated on Nov 13, 2012.

The letter added: “In view of its role that has a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of the people, the authority remains a subject of public scrutiny. Drap receives continued media attention alleging irregularities and malpractices regarding diverse areas being dealt by the authority as per its mandate.”

The letter asked for a special audit of Drap pricing mechanism “to further instill public confidence in the authority” and ascertain whether drug prices are determined “justly, accordance with the laid down policy and as per law.”

The letter is signed by NHS Secretary Zahid Saeed.

A Drap official who asked not to be named said that although the ADP regularly audits Drap, this one would be much more detailed and extensive because it will begin with the organisation’s inception.

“A Drug Pricing Policy (DPP) was introduced in 2015, and another DPP was introduced in 2018. All the prices were increased as per the policies, which were approved by the federal government. The AGP can also look into the policies and will audit our accounts. We have all the records and most of the prices were increased as per policy,” the official said.

He added that in “hardship cases” prices were increased manifold, as these cases were pending for almost a decade.

He said: “I’m sure the AGP will recommend that prices in hardship cases were increased too much, as that is the psyche of auditors.”

In hardship cases, Drap can increase prices if a company claims manufacturing medicine is not viable because of the increase in raw material costs and other factors.

The official said that whether the audit takes one month or six, the drug pricing issue will appear to be defused on every platform because the government and the ministry will be able to say that they will be in a position to comment once the audit is complete.

A retired official from the AGP office, requesting anonymity, said the audit will take at least a month, but could go on for three to four.

He said the audit will observe how many employees work at the authority, and what the medicine budget is. It will also observe whether the criteria is to increase medicine prices and were the research fund was spent, he said.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2019