Govt allows rise in prices of 94 life-saving drugs

Updated 23 Sep 2020

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Information Minister Shibli Faraz and SAPM on Health Dr Faisal Sultan address a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTv
Information Minister Shibli Faraz and SAPM on Health Dr Faisal Sultan address a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTv

• Reduces cost of Remdesivir injection
• Approves shutting down of power projects running in losses
• Minister says circular debt in power sector has gone up to Rs2.1tr

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved increase in prices of 94 life-saving drugs to ensure their availability in the market, and brought down the price of Remdesivir 100mg injection, used in Covid-19 treatment, from Rs10,873 to Rs8,244.

The meeting, which was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, took a number of other important decisions related to energy crisis in the country, circular debt in the power sector and the anti-rape bill.

“The cabinet allowed increase in the prices of those drugs which are short in the market as their manufacturers have stopped their production due to losses,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said in a joint press conference with Information Minister Shibli Faraz after the cabinet meeting.

Dr Sultan said prices of most of the 94 drugs had not been increased for a decade due to which manufacturers stopped their production, causing their shortage in the market.

“When these drugs are not available in the market, patients are compelled to use costly smuggled drugs,” the special assistant said.

“For instance, if the price of a drug is Rs10, we have increased it to Rs15. Apparently it is a 50pc increase but we have to save people from buying similar (smuggled) drugs at a cost of Rs300 or above,” he added.

When Dawn asked Dr Sultan why the government believed by increasing prices of items, their availability in the market would be ensured as seen in the case of wheat flour and sugar, he said the government could not ensure availability of life-saving drugs by force because drug manufacturers always employed various methods to stop production if they were pressured to reduce prices.

The cabinet also allowed the import of life-saving drugs as well as anti-cancer and cardiac medicines not registered in Pakistan, exempting them from the ban.

If a company stops manufacturing some medicines, claiming that its production has become non-viable due to high cost of production and raw material, its price can be increased as a special case which is called a ‘hardship case’.

The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) had moved the matter before the federal cabinet after some medicines, including the one used for cataract and by soldiers deployed in Siachen, had become short.

According to an official statement issued by the health ministry, in response to long-term shortages of some key or life-saving medicines, the federal cabinet on Tuesday allowed rationalising prices of drugs that had been reported to be in short supply due to unrealistically low prices.

This change was approved for drugs that fell in the ‘hardship category’ on the recommendation of the Drug Pricing Committee under the Drugs Pricing Policy 2018.

Some of the life-saving drugs whose prices have been allowed to increase include Furosemide injections (for emergency use in high blood pressure), Acetazolamide tablets (glaucoma), Hydralazine tablets (for lowering blood pressure), Carbamazepine tablets and suspension (epilepsy), Atropine Sulphate injection (used in emergencies), Magnesium Sulphate (used to treat seizures due to pre-eclampsia during pregnancy), Hydroxyurea, Daunorubicin, Bleomycin (used in treatment of cancer), Nitroglycerin and Glyceryl Trinitrate (emergency heart medicines) and anti-rabies vaccine.

“As an example, the price of Acetazolamide tablets has been Rs60.45 for a pack of 30 tablets for over a decade, despite increase in the cost of raw material needed to produce this drug in the international market, devaluation of rupee, increase in the price of packaging material and reduced volume of usage compared to the past. What it means is that this drug, which is not commonly used but is nevertheless essential in some clinical situations, has been available only on the black market, at greatly inflated prices,” the health ministry statement said.

An official of the NHS ministry, requesting not to be quoted, said the cabinet also considered the grant of exemption from section 23(1)(a)(VII) of the Drugs Act 1976.

“According to the section no medicine can be sold in Pakistan without its registration with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap). However, with the exemption health facilities or hospitals will be allowed to purchase medicines from the international market and use them for their patients. A Statutory Regulatory Order will be issued so that the medicines would be available under the right to medicine, he said.

Circular debt in power sector

Information Minister Shibli Faraz said circular debt in the power sector had gone up to Rs2.1 trillion and the government was looking for ways and means to curtail it.

In this connection, the cabinet gave approval for shutting down those public-sector power projects which are running into losses.

“The main reason behind the mammoth circular debt is because the previous (PML-N) government had directed power distribution companies not to charge electricity tariff from people in some parts of Balochistan to get their sympathies for the 2018 elections. When the present government started regularisation, it found the circular debt had gone up to this extent,” he added.

The minister said the government would soon give a detailed briefing to media on how the circular debt had increased and what remedial measures it was taking to overcome it.

Anti-rape bill

The cabinet decided to prepare the anti-rape bill in consultation with all stakeholders and table it in the National Assembly in the next session.

“The cabinet decided to look into the bill with reference to Islamic norms and prevailing facts and circumstances. We do not want to make a law in which the real culprit can escape and innocent is punished,” Shibli Faraz said.

Sectarian discussion

During the meeting the prime minister directed all cabinet members to refrain from discussing sectarian issues as the enemy wanted to fan sectarian hatred in the country.

“I believe that we should not indulge in any discussion that harms religious harmony and our armed forces,” Prime Minister Khan said.

Responding to a query, the information minister said the opposition’s multi-party conference was not discussed in the cabinet meeting.

Cantonment boards

The cabinet gave approval to appointment of new members in all military cantonment boards for a period of one year.

According to an official press release, “the cabinet approved appointment of new members of cantonment boards as the term of previous members had expired in Dec 2019.”

The new cantonment boards, which are called ‘mini boards’, will ensure holding of fresh elections in all boards under the local government rules.

In a separate decision, the cabinet approved re-classification of seven cantonment boards.

According to an official of the Military Land and Cantonments, the classification of cantonments was required with the passage of time, as cantonments (areas) having population of more than 100,000 fell in category 1, those having a population below 100,000 and above 50,000 fell in category 2 while category 3 cantonments were those which had less than 50,000 population.

Another source privy to the cabinet meeting said an exchange of harsh words was witnessed between Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar and Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari.

When Mr Umar presented a proposal on the energy sector before the cabinet, Ms Mazari was of the view that it was presented in haste and the members had not gone through it, therefore it should not be approved. However, the proposal was approved later.

Ikram Junaidi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2020