Towards affordable drugs

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Towards affordable drugs

Promote generics, strengthen legal mechanism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intent to put in place a legal framework to make sure that doctors prescribe low-cost generic medicines to their patients is welcome. The Prime Minister's ‘pro-poor' decision comes close on the heels of the much-needed overhaul of the National Health Policy and a price control mechanism for stents and other devices. The ultimate aim, however, is to standardise the overall cost of medical care, to make affordable healthcare possible by reducing the out-of-the-pocket expenditure which has seen a steady rise over the years. Given the never-ending, unholy nexus between doctors and manufactures to work hand in gloves to raise the prices of medicines, any move, like the present one, will hurt both and will also seek to benefit millions of people. Ethically, the doctors are required to just mention the name of the salt, its composition and not the name of the brand of the drug on the prescription. Neither does the manufacturer have the authority to inflate the price of the drugs as and when it suits circumstances. In this sense, the law may come as a breather as, at the very least, it will ensure that the doctors do not prescribe any specific brand name of the drug.  However, this may not address the larger issue — to bring an end to the manufacture of expensive medicines. The Government must, therefore, walk the extra mile to tackle this whole exercise of manufacture of costly drugs by multinational drug companies, who have made serious inroads into the medical fraternity, by having a cascading influence on the consumers. A popular perception goes that low-priced drugs are not of the same quality as that of branded ones. This has resulted in a situation where the customers repose confidence in branded drugs and are sceptical of generic drugs. Of course, nobody would want to risk the lives of their near and dear ones. This brings in the need to maintain the quality of drugs, which can be possible only when there are strict provisions to keep standards which are often flouted by the manufactures due to market competition. The credibility of the quality of drugs is in itself a subject matter of debate as, if Indian drugs were substandard, why would Indian generics have a strong presence in the global market?

Though the Medical Council of India had by way of an amendment to the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations 2002, issued directives to the doctors to preferably prescribe generic drugs, nothing changed. Implementational problems, non-commitment and non-effective strategies to materialise its order, has douched the medical body into controversies. It's functioning too has been far from effective. It is, therefore, not surprising that no headway has been made on this matter. Now that the Government has taken up this issue, it should swing into action and ensure that promises are kept and provisions implemented.

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