Of quality medicines at affordable prices
In a landmark judgment, the country's High Court has recently upheld its earlier order that had asked 34 medicine manufacturers to stop production and withdraw of all of their medicines from the market due to low quality.
The government has already revoked the licences of eight of them. A probe committee formed in this connection has been asked to submit a report over the overall situation of the drug companies -- whether they are involved in producing drugs without following the policy or selling those to local markets -- to the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) after every four months.
In fact, the issue of producing low quality medicines is not new. Due to the absence of regular monitoring and vigilance, low quality medicines are being manufactured in the country without any obstacles. Various consumer groups and the media very often raised their voices against such offence. Newspapers reported untimely deaths of many due to harmful effects of low quality medicines.
On the other hand, there has been a substantial rise in prices of the life-saving and other medicines. What is worrying is that the companies never announce in advance the price increases. The Drug Administration does not come either with any explanation about how medicine prices could make such frequent jumps in a short time.
Everybody remains in the dark whether the hikes in drug prices were approved by the authorities concerned or not. Critics say such hikes in prices of the medicines got the approval of the highest authorities with all deals remaining closely guarded secret.
As per existing rules, a drug company is required to apply to the DGDA to increase price of a medicine, and a committee headed by the health secretary approves it, if the increase is found to be logical.
According to reports, a section of dishonest officials of the health ministry, Drug Administration and some pharmaceutical companies are involved in phenomenal hike of medicine prices.
Due to rise in prices of the medicines, millions of people across the world still cannot access life-saving drugs despite unprecedented scientific advancements. In the developing countries, gaps in innovation and access to medicines and treatments continue to remain one of the critical challenges to the humanity in the 21st century, said a United Nations (UN) scholar, Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, during her visit to Bangladesh recently.
Addressing a lecture session at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), she said rapidly rising prices of medicines and treatment across the world affected not only the poor people and poor countries, but also people in high-income countries as well. Ms Fukuda said intellectual property provisions that strengthen and lengthen patents, are giving pharmaceutical corporations new monopoly rights to charge high prices. Patents do not create an incentive for investing in diseases like Zika or Ebola as consumers cannot afford the high prices.
The gaps in access and innovation result from the system of financing that does not create adequate incentives for investment aligned with public priorities. The new trends in regional trade and investment agreements could have critical consequences for access to medicines and other national health priorities, she added.
There is no denying that the country's healthcare service is afflicted with various irregularities. The government should have more control and regulations over the entire system that includes ensuring quality of the medicines and fixation of prices in a transparent manner. The government should frame a policy so that medicine manufacturers and traders can not make excessive profits. It should also ensure that the consumers get quality medicines at reasonable prices.
Non-availability of life saving medicines at reasonable prices is obviously a threat to the world peace. All concerned need to play a meaningful role in ensuring access to medicines at fair prices.