The pharma industry will not support the task force's proposal to get doctors to prescribe generic medicines. The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance has asked for more time to discuss the issue and come up with alternatives.

P.T. Jyothi Datta

Mumbai, July 5

CONSUMERS worried about the quality of medicines they consume can take heart. The Centre is set to discuss quality certification for medicines similar to the ISI or Agmark approvals that one sees on food and other products.

Quality certification is one of the issues on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting between pharma industry representatives and members of a task force set up to look into affordability and access issues regarding medicines.

The Centre is discussing the feasibility of instituting a quality certification mark for medicines and other modalities of how it will be implemented, a member on the task force told Business Line.

The task force was set up on the behest of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and had recently stirred up a hornet's nest in its discussion paper that suggested that doctors prescribe only generic medicines in certain categories.

This would mean curbing the unethical promotions adopted by drug companies to promote their medicines through doctors.

Quality certification assumes significance in the context of prescribing generic drugs, as there are about 20,000 drug manufacturers in the country.

Dr Amit Sengupta of the Delhi Science Forum observed that the bogey of sub-standard medicines is always raised when initiatives are discussed to promote generic medicines.

But tomorrow's meeting will see the pharma industry not supporting the task force's proposal to get doctors to prescribe generic medicines.

The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), a platform for the big daddies of the domestic drug industry, has asked for more time to discuss the issue and come up with alternative suggestions.

The IPA's Mr D.G. Shah said that the Government needs to improve the delivery mechanism to provide affordable drugs.

People who are able to pay for their medicines should not be subsidised, as that kills the pharma industry's ability to get financial returns that it can invest in research.

Competition is the best check on prices, he said.

Mr Daara Patel with the Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association (IDMA) said the association will not support the Government's effort to get only generic drugs prescribed.

However, they have, along with other industry associations, suggested a 1 per cent health cess on the earnings of the entire gamut of the healthcare industry - hospitals, diagnostic labs, pharma companies et al.

This could be used to subsidise medicines for people who cannot afford it, he said.

They will also ask for dismantling price controls and replace it with price monitoring.

Any medicine that shows a 15 per cent increase in price can be questioned by the authority, he said.

Merely asking doctors to prescribe generic drugs does not empower the consumer, he added, as unethical promotions will shift from doctors to the trade.

Unethical promotion practices notwithstanding, doctors will have a medical consideration in prescribing a drug, but trade will be driven only by margins, he observed.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 6, 2005)
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