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Sunday, May 28, 2023
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Bitter pills

So, it is the turn of medicines to see a price hike once again. The Economic Coordination Committee meeting, which was chaired by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, decided to increase the prices of 19 medicines, among them being drugs that provide relief from fever and pain, such as paracetamol.

The meeting also reduced the prices of 20 medicines and fixed the maximum retail price of 18 new drugs.

A few months back, Paracetamol’s most common brand, Panadol, had run out following the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent floods. The company that produces this over-the-counter medicine stopped its production, saying the cost of production had increased more than its maximum retail price. The government stepped in and increased its price, but that too did not make the drug available.

Even though paracetamol was available under various names, the Panadol crisis had a significant impact on citizens. And this propelled other manufacturers of paracetamol to raise their concerns regarding the drug’s pricing.

In its meeting, the ECC gave its nod to increasing the price of paracetamol, following which paracetamol plain will now cost Rs2.67 and paracetamol extra will be available for Rs3.32.

The ECC also took up the maximum retail price of 119 drugs under the hardship category as per the recommendations of the Drug Pricing Committee.

When companies are unable to produce medicines within the existing retail price, they apply for an increase in the retail price under the hardship category.

An official of the health ministry agreed that the cost of active pharmaceutical ingredients had increased following the devaluation of the rupee and the high cost of raw materials.

He said whenever a company applies under the hardship category, the case is reviewed thoroughly.

A few months ago, the issue of the price of life-saving drugs had also come up, with manufacturers requesting an increase of 7 per cent.

According to a study by the World Bank, Pakistan’s poverty rate stands at 39.3 per cent, which means about 90 million people live below the poverty line. But if the ratio is calculated based on the upper middle-income rate, it rises to 78.4 per cent, which means 179 million people live below the poverty line.

With such a high prevalence of poverty, the purchasing power of a large number of people becomes limited, and with a hike in the prices of essential medicines, many people may go without medicines.

Diseases that affect the heart and kidneys, as well as diabetes and hypertension, are very common in Pakistan. A large population suffers from health issues, but unfortunately has limited access to drugs.

Ultimately, people start looking for alternatives, and it is then that things start to go wrong for them.

They fall prey to quacks, so-called Hakims, and fake doctors who exploit their financial shortcomings and end up ruining their health.

The government has to think outside the box to facilitate citizens getting access to medical treatment. A person should not die for want of medicine.

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