Govt. urged to reduce prices of essential drugs

The People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) and several leading medical specialists have again called on the government to expedite legislation to implement the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) based on the essential medicines concept formulated by Professor Senaka Bibile.

Addressing a well attended news conference at the Centre for Society and Religion hall (CSR) on Tuesday, they said the implementation of the NMDP would ensure the availability of quality drugs for all people at affordable prices.

“As all our appeals to the relevant authorities have failed, it is our intention to enlighten the public in this regard and towards this endeavour we seek your support. Although the ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ policy document at Page 68 promised to reactivate Prof. Senaka Bibile’s rational drug concept it is yet to be implemented,” the PMRP leaders told the media.

According to the PMRP, there are more than 9,000 medicinal drugs registered in Sri Lanka. Yet the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed only 352 as essential medicines and the list prepared by the Health Ministry for Sri Lanka has only 340 essential drugs.

“This means that most drugs imported to Sri Lanka are non-essential and unnecessary. Essential medicines are those that meet the priority health care needs of the population. Essential medicines are selected with due regard to disease prevalence, evidence on efficacy and safety and comparative cost-effectiveness” the PMRP said.

A careful analysis of the expenditure related to the health sector of the National Budget indicates that Sri Lanka can save several billions of rupees each year by using safe, effective and good quality essential drugs marketed under the purview of a regime dictated by carefully thought out national policy.

At present the authority to register drugs rests with one person, the Director General of Health Services. The NMDP recommends the establishment of a Drug Regulatory Authority as a statutory body under the Ministry of Health, similar to statutory bodies like the telecom regulatory authority, atomic energy authority etc. The Drug Authority will be managed by a Board comprising of eminent academics and practitioners appointed by the Minister of Health.

Following the directive in the ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ policy document the former Minister of Health organized a workshop in consultation with all stakeholders to draft the NMDP. This was presided over by Dr. Krisantha Weerasuriya of the WHO, Regional Drug Advisor, in April 2005.

A similar workshop was convened in July 2005 to finalize the draft developed in April 2005.
An 18-member National Standing Committee (NSC), representing all stakeholders was appointed in March 2007 to prepare a draft Act to establish the National Medicinal Drug Regulatory Authority (NMDRA) to implement the NMDP. The draft Act was handed over to the Ministry of Health in mid-2008.

However, in spite of the promise in the Mahinda Chintanaya to “reactivate Bibile Policies” and repeated promises by the former Minister of Health to implement the NMDP, it has not been implemented so far. This delay is not totally unexpected. The NMDP, is a process of social transformation, one that reorders an existing deep-rooted system with powerful advocates. The Minister has told public meetings that the industry and some doctors are preventing him from implementing the NMDP.

Although the present Health Minister too has stated on several occasions that the NMDP will be implemented soon, his efforts are being sabotaged by some Ministry officials. They imply that various problems will occur in the health sector if the patient-friendly NMDP is implemented.

It is in this background that the PMRP on Tuesday appealed to all healthcare providers, health activists, public interest groups and citizens to support the PMRP in this endeavour that will bring immense benefits to all peoples of Sri Lanka.

Among those who addressed the media conference were the eminent physician, Professor Carlo Fonseka, former Dean of the Kelaniya University Medical Faculty, Professor Joel Fernando of the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine and Gynaecologist Dr. L.A.W. Sirisena.

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