Islamabad, August 3, 2016: Noting the recent upsurge in drug prices and acute shortage of life saving drugs and other essential medicines, Vice President PPPP Senator Sherry Rehman said that the federal government should declare a national health emergency in the country and review its pricing policies to unburden the poor who are most affected by sudden price increases.
She also called on the government to ensure that these life-saving medicines become available in all public hospitals and pharmacies.
The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), through its notification dated July 22, had announced an increase drug prices.
“This is the second announcement of a price increase within two months. Last month it allowed an 8 per cent increase in medicines used for treating Tuberculosis (TB),” noted the senator. “Those footing the bills cannot afford it.”
According to the Pakistan Pharmacists’ Association, prices of around 70,000 life-saving drugs for hepatitis, diabetes, heart, kidney and related issues and antibiotics will increase with this decision of the federal government.
“The price hike will affect everyone, especially the lower class, who suffer most from these diseases and cannot even afford one meal a day,” she maintained.
Rehman noted that the increase in drug prices from 1.43 per cent to 2.86 per cent has caused severe shortage of life-saving drugs in public hospitals and medical stores nationwide.
She said that production shortages of drugs caused by big pharmaceutical companies shutting down need to be addressed through targeted subsidies so that shortages can be plugged.
“We don’t need quality pharmaceutical manufacturers to disappear from Pakistan either,” said Rehman. “We need a policy that addresses both pricing and shortages, the poor and the industry.”
With Pakistan among the top five countries for TB, adding 500,000 people to the list every year, the senator said that apart from affordability, the resultant shortages would create a vacuum where patients who get erratic treatment will become more susceptible to the drug resistant strain of the disease.
Stressing the unavailability of TB medicine, she said, “I raised this issue in Senate. Now I draw the attention of the government specifically towards the mismanagement in treating this disease in public sector hospitals and in TB Centers working under the national control programme, as well as the shortage of anti-TB medicines in the country.”
The Senator called on the government to get its priorities in order, and told them to facilitate the people, saying, “If big Pharma has stopped production, find a middle path – if they need high prices for life-saving drugs to keep production lines going, then provide a subsidy, but plug the shortage.”
Deploring the federal government’s passivity against the endemic viral infections Hepatitis B and C as “criminal” Rehman said, “Over 15 million Pakistanis are infected with Hepatitis B and C, nearly 400 people die every day due to a lack of awareness and inaccessible treatment facilities.”
Pakistan has the second largest number of patients infected with this disease after China.
“Unfortunately, this curable and preventable viral infection is the fastest growing infectious disease in our country. The government should announce a national health emergency and launch public awareness campaigns against this disease,” she concluded.