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January 13, 2019

Expensive drugs

Editorial

 
January 13, 2019

An increase of up to 15 percent in the price of drugs, announced by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan on Friday, was pretty much unavoidable – considering the massive devaluation of the rupee. Many imported medicines were no longer available on the market because the cost of importing those medicines was higher than the price set up by the regulatory authority. Even most locally-produced drugs use imported raw materials, making it economically unviable for pharmaceutical companies to manufacture them. For all the justified anger there will be at the increase in the price of live-saving medicines at a time when everyone is suffering so badly, our real anger should be reserved for the fact that the price of medicines are left to the ravages of the market. While one does not expect pharmaceutical companies to keep selling drugs at a loss, there is no reason for the government not to subsidise them. Healthcare is too important a human right to be rationed on the basis of supply and demand, and it is the job of the government to provide every citizen with free healthcare, including medicine. Its failure to do so is why we are reliant on private companies and why adverse economic conditions make drugs even more unaffordable.

The drug-price increase serves as another reminder that the economic policies of the government are anything but pro-poor. It is not rocket science to figure out that the devaluation of the rupee would lead to massive inflation in the country and yet we are poised to possibly further devalue our currency on the dictates of the IMF. The increase in the price of electricity and gas has further hit all industries, including the pharmaceutical sector, making it even more expensive to manufacture drugs. Here too the government is likely to be pressured into furthering reducing power subsidies by the IMF – once the mystery of whether Pakistan is going to the IMF or not has been resolved.

When the government announced its austerity planned, one assumed it would balance the budget by cutting down on unnecessary expenditures and improving tax collection. What it has done instead is to hit those who are already suffering the most. Relying on private healthcare is not an option for most of the country. We are long past the time when a national healthcare system was needed, with drugs also provided for free. At a time when inflation is rampant and interest rates are increasing, it is simply not possible for the free market to set a price that would be affordable to most. The government has to step in and at the very least subsidise the purchase of necessary medicine.

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