Proposal to raise drug prices rejected

Published August 17, 2022
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif presides over a cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday. — PID website
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif presides over a cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday. — PID website

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet has turned down a summary moved by the Ministry of National Health Services seeking an increase in the prices of at least 35 medicines, which may force people to “opt for costly alternatives” as the pharmaceutical industry fears the “hasty decision” will result in the discontinuation of these relatively cheaper drugs.

According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday, the federal cabinet unanimously rejected the summary moved by the ministry and ordered that the prices of medicines should not be increased without approval from the federal government.

An official of the Ministry of NHS said that these 35 medicines included anti-cancer medication, painkillers, and some antibiotics. “It was suggested that their prices be increased as hardship cases, but the federal cabinet rejected the summary,” he said, adding that the decision will be complied with.

According to an official of the Drug Regulatory of Pakistan (Drap), the summary was moved after a detailed exercise in which all the original documents from the companies were sought to ascertain the purchase price and the production cost of the drugs.

Pharma rep fears discontinuation of medicines, says people will be forced to buy ‘costly alternatives’

It is worth noting that in November 2013, the Ministry of Health notified an increase in the prices of medicines. However, the notification was withdrawn the next day after then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif asked the ministry to retract the notification, following a backlash over the rise in prices.

Costly alternatives?

The cabinet’s refusal to bump the prices did not make the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufac­turers Association (PPMA) happy, which feared that companies would not be able to manufacture these drugs due to their increased production cost. The PPMA said such a move will result in the discontinuation of these medicines, which were registered in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Pakistani rupee was stronger against the US dollar compared to today.

PPMA Central Executive Committee member Hamid Raza claimed that, at the time, the prices of these medicines were fixed in line with the exchange rate, which was “very low” and is same rate that is being followed today.

As companies cannot sell the medicines above the maximum retail price (MRP), their cost of production has exceeded the MRP and it was not viable for the companies to continue to manufacture these medicines, he said.

Mr Raza claimed that similar drugs registered after the year 2000 were being sold at higher rates after changes in the rupee-dollar parity.

“I believe that the federal cabinet could not understand the issue, due to which those medicines will vanish from the market and their alternates will be available at much higher rates,” he warned.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2022

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