02/16/2016, 17.07
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For Pakistani pharmacists, a recent price hike in drugs is forcing the poor to go without

by Kamran Chaudhry

Drug companies have reduced supplies in order to push up prices and profits. Price gauging has distorted the retail end of the market. Some antibiotics, powdered milk, bone disease and eye medications have all but disappeared. Prices jumped 15 per cent in Punjab, 7 per cent in Sindh.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Pakistan Chemist Retailer Association (PCRA) yesterday held a press conference at the Lahore Press Club to denounce a huge price hike in drug prices, which the poor can no longer afford. For PCRA president Ishaq Meo, “A pharma bomb has been dropped on the public”.

According to the latest figures, the price increase has touched a number of drugs, including those used against the common cold, flu, fever, pain, swelling, headaches, heart problems and blood circulation.

In the country’s largest province of Punjab, prices have jumped by 15 per cent, whilst in the southern province of Sindh, they have gone up by 7 per cent.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Mr Meo noted that “The Drug Regulatory Authority has failed in keeping the drug prices stable and has left the poor at the mercy of pharmaceutical alligators.”

For the PCRA president, this is unjustified. Hence, we “challenge the pharmaceutical companies to a dialogue.” Otherwise, “We shall mobilise all the medical stores, organise protests and challenge the government machinery". In fact, by limiting patients ‘access to medications, the country’s Drugs Act of 1976 is being violated.

"The price of a pack of Panadol* has gone from 180 to 240 rupees” (US$ 1.80 to US.30), Meo said. “At the same time, a shortage has been created for important drugs: antibiotics, neurotonic vitamins, medications for pregnant women, bone diseases and children eye problems. This is forcing people to pay higher prices. The government has [also] lost all control over [the price of] infant formula."

For Bushra Khalid, a woman in her sixth month of pregnancy, the "pharma bomb" is already being felt.

Married to a labourer, the mother of eight lives with her family in a tent.  One night, winter rains drenched her quilts and she turned to a priest for help. She found temporary shelter at the Missionaries of Charity home for the disabled in Lahore.

"We don’t have the means to build a house,” she explained, and “the construction industry slows down in winter. We cannot afford meals for the whole family. Buying vitamin supplements has become impossible. The sisters gave us food and accommodation free. We thank God for their help."

In view of the situation, the PCRA has come up with some suggestions to contain the rising costs of drugs, like allowing the sale of life-saving generic drugs, letting pharmacists and hospitals manufacture their own medications, ban registering slightly modified existing drugs, and giving the PCRA representation on the Drug Regulatory Authority.

* Panadol is one of the trade names of Paracetamol, a mild analgesic.

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