The Financial Express

Pharma sector\'s responsibility to society

| Updated: October 22, 2017 03:08:46

Pharma sector\'s responsibility to society
The least developed countries (LDCs) have been granted the extension to pharmaceutical patent waiver until 2033 at the tenth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held at Nairobi, the capital of Kenya from 15-18 December, 2015. Abdul Muktadir, Managing Director of Incepta Pharmaceuticals, has termed this decision an epoch-making one for the pharmaceutical industry of the LDCs. He attended the ministerial conference as a member of the Bangladesh delegation led by the commerce minister. 
There are wide controversies about the trade facilities LDCs could gain from the developed countries, but this no doubt is laudable. Because of this decision, the peoples of the LDCs will receive some otherwise globally costly medicines at a much lower price for 17 more years. The people of Bangladesh will be able to purchase sovaldi, a medicine that treats hepatitis C at a cost of US$ 8.0 as against US$ 100, the international price. Unfortunately, this is not happening in the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. The above-mentioned medicine along with a few others may be shown as examples for getting a waiver from trade-related intellectual properties rules. 
However, in case of general medicines in Bangladesh, the price is much higher compared with that of other countries of the region, particularly India. Sale price of a tablet zantec 150 mg (Ranitidine) in India is 0.75 rupee. Here in Bangladesh it is sold at Tk 4.0. It may be mentioned that the drug is widely prescribed for the treatment of acidity, popularly known as gas problem. Indiscriminate price hike of drugs is a regular phenomenon in Bangladesh and the rate of increase is between 15 to 25 per cent. The price hike is approved by the Drug Administration. It is alleged that either the Drug Administration does not have the expertise or competency to examine the justification of the proposed price hike or there exists unholy alliance between the pharmaceutical mandarins and the Drug Administration people. The long and short of the story is that the pharmaceutical industry is siphoning off huge profit from the people, taking advantage of the ever-increasing market. Moreover, there are allegations of corruption in the marketing of drugs.
 In Bangladesh, facilities for treatment of some diseases related to kidney, liver and cancer are very poor and costly. For bone marrow transplantation a patient has to go outside the country, at least to India and the minimum cost is Tk 5.0 million. Singapore is the medical treatment centre for the rich people of Bangladesh. A person from rural area cannot find surface ambulance for bringing a patient to an upazila or district hospital. But a rich man can easily avail of air ambulance service for going to Singapore. 
As an effective mechanism for reducing poverty and extending social security, the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been globally recognised. The Bangladesh Bank has streamlined the system of utilising the CSR fund but the instructions are limited to the banks and financial institutions. Other sections are enjoying a free ride. In India, the system of creating CSR funds and utilisation thereof has been codified in the Company Act of the country. Since the corporate economy reigns supreme in a country's economy, there should exist a state-of-the-art company law. Our Ministry of Commerce, the custodian of the company law, is apparently indifferent to the law and nonchalant about updating it. The Companies Act, 1994 should immediately be updated embedding laws relating to CSR, company law authority and other issues. 
Taking   recourse to the transparent laws and guidelines on CSR fund utilisation, the pharmaceutical association will be able to create a central CSR fund which can be utilised for setting up of highly specialised hospital/clinic for treatment of complicated diseases of kidney, liver, heart and also cancer. A few days ago, this scribe found a notice on the board of a renowned college-cum-school where the principal has fervently appealed for donation for bone marrow replacement of a student of Class II. There are enough rich people who can establish a hospital for such treatment. The only requirement is the will and patriotism. 

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