Medicine price: Is sky the limit?  

Medicine price: Is sky the limit?   

A sort of anarchic situation has been prevailing in pricing of pharmaceutical products in the country.

The domestic producers of drugs are enjoying a freehand in fixing prices of their products because the so-called price monitoring and controlling authorities have apparently decided to overlook all the wrongdoings.

The media and consumers' rights bodies have time and again aired the grievances of the people against unabated rise in pharmaceutical products, but nothing has happened. Rather, the local drug manufacturers have become more aggressive in revising their prices upward.

The pharmaceutical companies have adopted a strategy, apparently, through an agreement among themselves, to hike the prices of their products. What they usually do under the strategy is that they first select a particular medicine for price hike and then they in a planned manner reduce the supply of the same in the market, creating an artificial crisis. Because of the short supply, the price of the item goes up. After some days, the producers start normalising the supply of that particular drug but with a higher price tag. 

The prices of many locally produced medicines have increased between 20 to 70 per cent over the last couple of years. Moreover, different drug manufacturers sell the same medicine at varying prices. For instance, a medicine named Neprosin tablets, produced by Rediant Pharmaceuticals has a price of Tk 15 each while the same generic medicine under a different brand name is being sold at Tk 8.0 each by the Square Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, tablets under the brand name Lineta (Square Pharma) is being sold at Tk 15 each while the same drug, produced by Ibne Sina under the brand name Linex is available at Tk 7.0 each at the retail level. Novartis has fixed the retail price of Galvas met at Tk 315 while Square is selling the same drug at Tk 180.

The manufacturers that have tagged higher prices do claim that they source quality raw materials from developed countries and that is why they have no option other than fixing prices on the higher side. Their claim may or may not be true. There is no reason to believe that relevant government agencies/ laboratories take the trouble of finding the justification behind the higher price tags of certain medicines.

Barring the problem of whimsical price fixation, there is a strong suspicion about the quality of medicines produced by a large number of pharmaceutical companies. That some little known companies produce counterfeit and substandard medicines is an established fact. But it is suspected that some large and medium-scale operators in the sector do also cheat consumers using ingredients less than the required amount in their products.

The pharmaceutical companies would cite a number of reasons in support of the hike in medicine prices. The increase in prices of raw materials, salaries and wages of employees and other operating costs will be surely among those. There may be some truth in it. But, definitely, they may not be telling the whole truth.

The fact remains that pharmaceutical companies are engaged in a cutthroat competition to grab the market and a good number of them have been spending a huge sum to gain their hold on the market. Most part of the expenditure is done on a section of senior level physicians. The companies do often make expenditures unethically to obtain the blessings of these physicians.

The leading pharmaceutical companies recoup a large part of the expenditure on market promotion by raising prices of medicines both frequently and arbitrarily. To achieve that goal, the major players hike prices of medicines under a collective arrangement.

Unfortunately, there is none to stop the drug manufacturers from hiking the medicine prices the way they like. True, Bangladesh operates in free market environment. But that does not mean that businesses have got licences to fleece consumers the way they like. It needs to be remembered that the people here are required to meet more than 60 per cent of medical expenses from their own pockets. So, frequent and unjustified hike in medicine prices would only add to the burden of poor and low-income people.

The people have no reason to seek support from the health directorate or any other relevant government agency, for they, apparently, are not interested in dealing with the issue.

But the consumers can definitely seek the help of the Competition Commission, constituted under the Bangladesh Competition Act 2012. Not much has been heard about the commission until now. Consumers expect the commission to be visible and want its involvement with activities for protecting their interest. Collective price fixing by pharmaceutical companies is an anti-competition act and the commission must stop it.

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