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July 4, 2020

Drug prices

Editorial

 
July 4, 2020

In a timely move the Supreme Court of Pakistan has turned down pharmaceutical companies’ petitions and asked the government to decide on drug prices within four weeks. Over a dozen pharma companies had challenged two SROs on the grounds that there was an appellate forum in the law under which the impugned notice was issued. It is noteworthy that the federal government in 2015 introduced the Drug Pricing Policy (DPP) and required that all hardship cases be dealt with in accordance with this policy (DPP-15). The pharma companies first challenged the policy before the Sindh High Court, requesting that the increase in Maximum Retail Price (MRP) in hardship and anomaly cases be based on actual cost and individual basis rather than the DPP. In 2018, the Supreme Court constituted a committee comprising the representatives of pharmaceutical companies and some senior officials from the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) and the Ministry of Health.

Then in 2018, DRAP introduced a new DPP (DPP-18) for the regulation of drug pricing. In August 2018, the apex court ruled that the closed cases decided on the basis of DPP-15 could not be reopened and the retail prices of drugs sold in Pakistan were frozen till the decision of DRAP regarding the price fixation in hardship cases. The petitioners contended that the Ministry of Health issued an SRO in 2019 to reduce the retail prices of drugs which was unlawful as it was premised on calculation using an incorrect base MRP. According to the petitioner companies, the prices were reduced to such a level that the production of drugs became unviable. Now the Supreme Court has dismissed the petition. The best part of the verdict is that the court has directed the federal government to decide on the drug prices in four weeks. Actually, this matter has been under discussion for nearly two years now. The task force formed by the government was also unable to come up with a viable solution.

The drug manufacturers are using various tactics to force the government to raise drug prices. The attorney general rightly pointed out in the court proceedings that if the prices were not increased for a particular drug the medicine disappeared from the market. The government now must come up with a strategy to keep the prices in the reach of the common people. But if the past two years are any guide, the government keeps surrendering to pressures be it from the pharmaceutical, oil or sugar industries. It is worth recalling that in October last year, DRAP had seized stocks of overpriced medicines in various cities in a countrywide crackdown and it was revealed that some life-saving drugs were priced at as much as five to seven times more than the prices allowed by DRAP. Then there was also talk about unregistered and fake medicines being sold at much higher prices in connivance with some venal doctors. These practices must come to an end now and the government must decide on and enforce prices that are affordable for common people.