Hyderabad: Indian drug makers have reiterated an offer to the Union government to part-fund a drug banks scheme proposed by New Delhi aimed at supplying medicines to the poor for free or at subsidized rates. But the pharmaceutical companies said their contribution would hinge on the Centre promising less regulation in the industry.
“The pharmaceutical industry may contribute a portion of the turnover towards drugs access programme for BPL (below poverty line) families. The companies with annual turnover of Rs100 crore and above may contribute 0.25% of their turnover for various government programmes, including district-level drug banks,” says B.N. Singh, president of trade body Indian Drug Manufacturers Association. “Industry will support the government’s initiatives if there is a favourable policy for the industry,” he adds.
India’s Rs34,000 crore pharma industry complains that the country’s drug price regulator, National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority (NPAA), functions in a non-transparent manner when setting prices and doesn’t give companies the freedom to retail medicines at rates that are remunerative.
NPPA, which sets prices for 74 chemicals that go into the making of drugs, and the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers say they do so to keep medicine prices affordable.
Domestic drug makers, most of who make copies of off-patent drugs and have supplied cheap drugs to fight HIV/AIDS in poor countries of Africa, are in favour of making drugs available to India’s poor, numbering about 225 million, Wockhardt Ltd chairman Habil Khorakiwala says. “If price control is removed, industry would not mind contributing certain portion of production, particularly drugs for AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and cholera,” he says, adding his company has an ongoing patient support programme among the poor in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra.
Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, a grouping of large drug makers, said the ball was in the government’s court. The private companies’ proposal “involved a quid pro quo where the industry would share the burden of providing drugs to the poor while the price control regime is diluted”, says D.G. Shah, secretary general of the trade body.
The drug-bank programme envisaged spending Rs200 crore, in partnership with private drug firms, for setting up about 600 drug banks across the country. The drug banks were to procure medicines from firms and distribute these for free to needy families. Such drug donations would be made eligible for tax breaks.
The programme is modelled on Medicare Relief Societies operating in district hospitals of Rajasthan. P.N. Saraswat, drugs controller, Directorate of Medical Health Services, Rajasthan, says, “Medicare Relief Societies in Rajasthan had been procuring medicines directly from drug makers at a reasonable price and providing access to cheap medicines to the common man, and free of cost to those below poverty line.”State government officials estimate the health services programme has benefited 67.34 lakh poor since it was started in November 1999.
Several pharma companies have been individually running programmes to provide medicines free of cost to the poor. For instance, Natco Pharma has a drug access programme that supports 10,000 breast cancer patients with free supply of generic drugs of arimidex anastrazole. The supplies would be made through select cancer research institutes and cancer hospitals all over the country.
Hetero Drugs has made a proposal to the Union government to support BPL families with AIDS drugs for free.Another trade body, the Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), which represents foreign-owned drug firms in India, has initiated talks with New Delhi to supply anti-cancer and HIV drugs at subsidized rates.
OPPI director general Ajit V. Dangi says the body plans to supply drugs directly to government hospitals to eliminate distributor margins. “Transaction costs increase the prices of drugs by about 60-70%. Though medicines are available, reach is an issue in India,” he says.
A senior official of the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers confirmed that the Union government is considering to include the drug-banks proposal in the 11th Five-Year Plan for 2007-12. A group of ministers tasked with finalization of the national pharmaceuticals policy, which held its first meeting last month, will hold several meetings with the industry representatives and consumer associations at its forthcoming meetings.
The implementation and funding of these drug banks will be decided after these meetings, the official who did not want to identified, says.
Bhuma Shrivastava contributed to this story.