Reduced drug prices won’t stand still for 100 years: Health Minister

January 11, 2018 at 7:51 pm

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Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne
Pic – Saman Abeysiriwardena

 

by Sanath Nanayakkare

 

It is useful to remind ourselves that regulating the prices of pharmaceutical drugs is a policy decision made to bring relief to the masses. It is not a deterrent on drug manufacturers and importers to undermine the availability of drugs in the market. So, the drug price framework needs flexibility to accommodate changes in circumstances such as exchange rate fluctuation, Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said in Colombo on Monday.

 

“When the prices of some drugs were reduced between one-tenth and one-sixth the previous price and the price of panadol was reduced to Rs. 1.30 from Rs. 3, no newspaper cared to publish it in their main headlines, but when the prices were adjusted by 5% after two and a half years to offset the US dollar fluctuation to avoid an impact on drug importation, that hit the main headlines of some newspapers. Current drug prices won’t stand still for 100 years. It just can’t be. When prices go up, it will see an increase of about 5% and then will stabilize for another year. India too has controlled the price of about 900 drugs and it is subject to an increase of 10% every year according to market conditions. But we have not allowed that here,” he said.

 

“65% of the population comes to government hospitals to get treatment. They expect the government to invest in healthcare and drugs because they can’t afford it. Even some of those who go to private hospitals can’t afford to buy the prescribed drugs for prolonged periods as recommended by doctors. That’s why the government decided to bring the prices of drugs down where possible. The reduction of prices of 48 generic drugs meant the reduction of 402 brand name drugs. Companies tell us that their profit has shrunk, but as the sales volumes have increased significantly they can make enough profit.

 

“Further, high quality stents are provided free to heart patients who undergo surgeries at government hospitals which used to cost them several hundred thousand rupees. As a result, the number of surgeries performed at the National Cardiology Unit has gone up to between 450 – 500 a month from its earlier figure of just 50 a month. Somehow, the media doesn’t see this. They should go out and speak to the doctors and find out the truth. However, the recipients of these benefits are aware of this and are grateful for the relief provided to them.

 

“Drug prices can be reduced further if we localize the production of drugs. That undertaking is already in progress. We have signed agreements with 38 companies to manufacture drugs in Sri Lanka. Two manufacturers are already in operation in Kandy and Horana. In March, the third company will start its production. They will be working with the State Pharmaceutical Corporation as public -private partnerships, enjoying a buy-back guarantee from the government for15 years. Meanwhile, 18 companies have negotiated with us to come and invest as independent companies. They will get a 10 year buy-back guarantee. I think that no other industry has been able to bring in as much foreign direct investments (FDIs) to the country recently as the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry has, the minister said.

 

Sri Lanka currently produces 2 billion tablets and capsules per year and this figure is estimated to go up to 4 billion in the near future.

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