PESHAWAR, June 9: The multinational pharmaceutical companies have been fleecing the hepatitis C patients for the last several years and there is still no check on them, doctors and patients say.

“Majority of hepatitis C patients needs Interferon injections, which are usually given twice a week. A patient requires 72 injections to get fully recovered,” said a senior hepatologist. He said that the patients had been facing problems because price of the injection vary from shop to shop.

Some patients get the full dose (72 injections) for Rs45,000 while others buy the same for as low as Rs23,000, he said.

Interestingly, about 10 pharmaceutical companies have been marketing these injections and all offer different prices. The worst sufferers are the poor patients, who are unable to pay for the costly treatment of hepatitis C.

“I have paid Rs45,000 for a full dose of injections to a chemist in Peshawar. A man in my village has received the same injections by paying only Rs23,000,” said Jaffar Ali, a shopkeeper in Mardan. He said that he was a poor person and had borrowed the money from his neighbours.

Last year, the manufacturers of Interferon injection slashed the price from Rs72,000 to Rs45,000. “It means that these companies had been charging the patients exorbitant price from the past 10 years because now they are selling it at Rs45,000 and Rs23,000,” said a physician. It also shows the margin of profit being pocketed by the drug manufacturers from the past one decade, he said.

The patients visiting the Mercy Teaching Hospital, Kuwait Teaching Hospital and Prime Teaching Hospital – all affiliated with the Peshawar Medical College – are the beneficiaries of the lowest prices offered by the companies.

“We try to give financial benefit to all the patients. About 90 per cent of the patients belong to poor families and can not afford the expensive medication,” Dr Muhammad Subhan, the KTH medical superintendent, told this correspondent. He said that Interferon injections should be given on the prescription of a specialist doctor.

According to officials of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Hepatitis Control Programme about 10 per cent of the province's population suffers from hepatitis C and the only treatment available for this is Interferon injection. Asked about the price difference, they said that fixation of drug prices was the domain of the federal government.

The price of another injection called Pegasys, which is also administered to the hepatitis C patients, was also reduced from Rs12,000 to Rs6,000, which shows how the MNCs have been fleecing the people.

Local pharmacists say that not only the MNCs but the distributors and chemists have also been earning a lot from sale of the hepatitis drugs.

They said that mostly the benefits were transferred by the pharmaceutical companies to the doctors and chemists, who prescribe and sell the medicines, respectively.