The government has recently asked the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to withdraw the guidelines issued on May 29, 2014 on the drug price control for medicines that are not on the essential medicines list.
The circular was issued just before Prime Minister Modi’s visit to US. The government decision to decontrol prices of 108 drugs used to treat tuberculosis, AIDS, diabetes and heart ailments have caused an unbelievable hike in their prices. Plavix, a drug used to treat blood pressure and heart ailments, will cost Rs 1,615, against the earlier Rs 147. The price of Glivec, the anti cancer tablet, has increased from Rs 8, 500 to Rs 1.08 lakh. Due to the earlier policy, the price of Glivec which had come down from over a lakh to Rs 8, 500, would again hit a high. The government already controls the prices of 348 drugs listed in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) under the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO) 2013. A part of the Union ministry of chemicals, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals, the NPPA regulates the prices of the drugs and monitoring its production and availability. It tries to and rectifies any shortage of drugs in the country and also maintains data on export and import of drugs. The licensing of drugs, however, is done independently by the Drugs Controller General of India in the health ministry.
The move has sparked controversies with the IMA and various political parties criticizing the Modi government for attempting to create good PR relations with the US at the expense of the ordinary Indian citizens. People belonging to the middle and the lower class would be in distress for they would find it impossible to treat the ailments with such costly drugs. Ties between India and the United States have not been good in the recent years because of trade policies and patent disputes. The courts and the Indian patent offices had rejected the patents on medicines high in price for the people of the country and other developing nations leading to discords. The government has now pandered to the pressure of the US letting down the citizens. It is surely, against their interest and people are wary of the government giving away its rights through the bilateral treaties with the US. The government decision would surely favour the drug companies who are bent upon lobbying the country’s existing drug patent policies. The policies include a standard criteria and provision for mandatory licenses.
The Health Ministry should adopt steps in the interests of the people. The State government has contacted the Centre in this regard urging it to take immediate action. The price hikes would only leave the common man devastated. The earlier government decision of controlling the drug prices should be reinstated. It should not be the trade relations that should determine the drug costs or the treatment methods. Improving the business relations between the two countries is not a bad idea unless it interferes with the people and their health.