More hiccups as drug prices slashed

Published in the Nation on October 23, 2016

In light of the recent regulation of the prices of essential drugs coming into force, pharmacists pointed out that those who purchased drugs for medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and hypotension and asthma constituted at least 40% of the market share.

The price revisions of 47 essential drugs were gazetted on Friday (21).
Accordingly, the list of drugs included those which are used for the treatment of non-communicable diseases that are widely prevalent among the middle-aged population of Sri Lanka.

President of the Society of Government Pharmacists Ajith P.
Thilakaratne speaking to Weekend Nation explained that this move to regulate the prices of these essential drugs would help these patients to cut down on the costs spent on their medicines to a large extent.

“These drugs are used by patients on a daily basis for a long period of time. Most of them use drugs all their life,” he said.

The prices have been set by taking into consideration the median value of all the brands of a specific drug available in the market.

“There are 100 drugs that are most commonly used and the most used drug is called ‘Atorvastatin’, which is used for purposes of lowering cholesterol. It will be reduced to Rs. 11.15 from its current price of Rs. 21.16. This means that there is a reduction of over Rs. 10,” Minister of Health Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said this week.

Dr. Senaratne also noted that they had discussed with 27 pharmaceutical companies and had also obtained cabinet approval for the production of these drugs in Sri Lanka. “We are prepared to produce 75% of the drugs that are currently being imported,” he said.

The minister, addressing a press conference added that 24 of the 100 drugs which are used to treat cancer will also have a change in price.

However, Thilakaratne observed that the same methodology could not be used to regulate the prices of drugs used for cancer treatment and renal transplant.

“There are very few brands that have these drugs. Plus they are very expensive when compared with the drugs that are commonly used. Therefore using the same calculation method is not logical,” he said.

Thilakaratne, while welcoming this move to regulate drug prices also said that the government should look at including more drugs into the list for regulation.

“There are at least 3,000 generic drugs that are being used by the people on a daily basis. Therefore, the government in time to come should try to include these drugs as well,” Thilakaratne added.

According to Managing Director of Union Chemists, Charana Rodrigo, 95% of the drugs that are brought to Sri Lanka, are from India. “There are various brands of the same drug that are brought to Sri Lanka  They are sold at ad hoc prices. Therefore, a proper regulating mechanism such as this would help the people in a big way,” he said.

He also said that the lack of a regulatory mechanism had resulted in consumers suspecting pharmacies of increasing drug prices unreasonably.

“Pharmacies have to keep a profit margin of 13 to 15%. In addition, we need to store medicines in a proper manner and ensure that it is air-conditioned. Plus we need to have a qualified pharmacist as well,” Thilakaratne said.

Meanwhile, the Prof. Senaka Bibile Foundation and the All Ceylon Medical Officers’ Association emphasized that they had certain reservations regarding the methodology adopted and the pricing criteria when calculating the revisions.

Convener of the Foundation and General Secretary of the Association, Dr. Jayantha Bandara said that the cost, insurance and freight value had not been considered and instead the inflated cost had been taken into account.

It is only once the gazetted prices are released that further commentary can be made according to Thilakaratne.

An official at the Ministry of Health who wished to remain anonymous explained that the lack of an effective post-marketing surveillance system created an opening for substandard drugs to enter the market without being monitored.

“The regulation system adopted by the government would drive out certain reputed drug manufacturers from the country as they would have to lower their prices in accordance to the system”, he said.

The official alleged that drugs manufactured and imported from India were sold at lower rates as they were of low quality. “Even though they claim to manufacture drugs according to World Health Organization standards, most of these companies outsource the process where they are made in homes and in domestic environments,” the official said.
He said that according to this system of median pricing, the European companies which manufacture good quality drugs and sell it for a higher price would have to reduce their prices while the Indian drugs would be given an opportunity to increase their prices.



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