ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka National Medicine Regulatory Association (NMRA) has given permission to raise drug prices by 29 percent on the request of private importers due to steep depreciation of rupee against the US dollar, the subject minister told the parliament on Friday (11).

HOwever, medical experts have raised concerns over unafforable drugs.

State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Channa Jayasumana told the parliament, that the drug regulator NMRA has agreed to grant permission to increase prices by 29 percent at a meeting held on Friday.

“With the changes in the dollar we had inquiries to change the prices. But me nor the Minister of health has the power to change or increase the prices.” Jayasumana said.

“The NMRA committee had a meeting today and discussed about it and recommended a price increase percentage which we as the ministry can implement. Accordingly, the price increase they have given permission is 29 percent,”

Meanwhile, the Federation for Health Professionals (FHP) said, state hospitals are experiencing a shortage of more than 50 essential drugs and specialists have had to plan their treatments with just a few of the more affordable substitute medicines.

“This increase in prices is a serious crisis for the entire healthcare system, as it has become the norm to buy all the expensive drugs from private pharmacies,” the convener of the Federation for Health Professionals, Ravi Kumudesh said.

“As a result of this price increase, it is inevitable that the prices of essential drugs will continue to double or triple or even increase on a daily basis at competitive prices and the hospital staff will have to maintain a health care system that varies according to the amount of money available at hands of patients.”

Free Health at Stake?

FHP said in addition to the dollar problem, an increase in freight rates for pharmaceuticals due to the sharp decline in the arrival of cargo ships and aircraft, increase in oil prices, will lead to further increase in drug prices in the future.

“Unless a definite plan is put in place, the public must be prepared for an environment in which free health care will not function in the country,” Kumudesh said.

Commenting on the allegation on medicine shortage, the minister said the shortage has been created by sellers, dealers and importers by preventing adequate supply to the market expecting price hike.

Jayasumana said the state-owned storages have enough supply for 6 months while the private suppliers had informed the authorities of having enough supplies for another 4 months. However, due to the forex shortage in the country, private medicine suppliers informed a possible shortage in medicine earlier this month.

The Sri Lanka Chamber of Pharmaceuticals Industry (SLCPI), at a press briefing held on March 3, said, due to inability to open letters of credit, country will face a shortage of essential drugs in the market by next month.

Azam Jaward the Vice President, SLCPI said the industry has not been given priority to a certain extent due to the current power crisis where fuel is given priority.

“Delays in NMRA, price control is causing a problem along with the dollar crisis,,” HE SAID.

“Until last month we did not have any major issues. But now the banks have been advised to prioritize issuing LCs to import fuel. If this trend continues, even for the lifesaving drugs, we will have a serious issue.”

“We are at the moment have the supply for another 2-6 weeks, some medicines for another 3 months, but we are concern about the possible situations that can arise in the future in this country due to drug shortage.”

Negative Consumer Reaction 

Medical and Civil Rights Professional Association of Doctors (MCPA) in a letter before the price increase said affordable drug prices are likely to reduce patients taking adequate medicines at appropriate intervals.

Dr. Chamal Sanjeewa, the President of MCPA said many patients are tempted to buy the drugs in small amount “without taking them for the prescribed period of time.’’

‘’If the price of medicine increases, the public will not use medicine in the appropriate and prescribed manner,’’ he said asking for the government intervention to help the poor to ensure medicinal supply at an affordable price.

‘’If there’s no fuel you can stay at home and work if there’s no gas you can convert to firewood or kerosene cookers if there’s no electricity you can light a candle, but if there’s no medicine there is no alternative the people have.’’

He also warned that if Sri Lanka manufactures drugs, it must be done in the right quantity and quality for the patients as there is potential to use Sri Lankan resources to control the budding anticipated shortage.  (Colombo/Mar12/2022)