New Delhi: Needles and syringes are sold at prices far above their manufacturing costs in India thanks to bloated trade margins, the drug price regulator has said.

While the maximum trade margin in disposable syringes with needles varied from 332% to 1,251%, that on insulin pen needles and disposable hypodermic needles varied from 57% to 789%, the National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority (NPPA) said on Tuesday.

In the case of insulin syringes with needles, the average price to distributors was Rs2.68, with average MRP at Rs7.92 and maximum trade margin at 400%.

The NPPA data comes nearly a month after the regulator revisited the prices of cardiac stents, which was slashed by up to 85% in February 2017 to make them affordable. It is, however, not clear whether Tuesday’s data was released ahead of a price cap on needles and syringes. The regulator had earlier asked for trade data on 18 other medical devices.

“We have studied the trade margin report on syringes and needles by NPPA, and acknowledge the very high trade margins in this product range motivated by an unhealthy race to defend or attain hospital and retailer customers by luring them with higher trade margins than competing brands," said Rajiv Nath, president, All India Syringes & Needle Manufacturers Association (AISNMA).

All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), a network of non-government organizations working in the health sector, repeated its demand for government intervention in regulating prices.

“The data are showing that in yet another instance of inflated pricing, the MRPs bear no relation to the costs of manufacturing. These trade margins show how companies have artificially raised the MRPs at the behest of hospitals. While a segment of the syringe manufacturers attempted self regulation, they have admitted defeat because hospital accounts were going to the few companies that refused to comply with the voluntary code. Syringes and needles are among the most commonly used devices which account for huge bills and being used by hospitals to indiscriminately fleece, unbeknownst by patients. Let alone take proactive action, the government is busy weakening the regulator. AIDAN demands that the government impose price control immediately not only on syringes and needles but also remaining devices coming notified as drugs and any other commonly used devices," said Malini Aisola an activist of AIDAN.

Earlier in December, syringe and needle makers decided to cap trade margins at 75% after the country’s drug price watchdog found companies were charging excessively high prices on drugs and disposables.

In its investigation, NPPA had found that Fortis Hospital in Gurugram had charged parents of a seven-year-old girl who died of dengue in September up to 1,700% mark-up on medical equipment and drugs.

In October 2017, the department of pharmaceuticals had held talks with stakeholders to discuss the impact on availability of medicines and prices if trade margins were capped and called yet another meeting to discuss MRP and margins, specifically in disposables, syringes and needles.

Following this, the executive body of manufacturers asked members to consider printing reduced MRP beginning National Consumer Day on 24 December, by capping trade margins at maximum 75%, and implement it. The AISNMA also requested multinational companies to self-regulate their MRP on the basis of ex-factory or import-landed prices.

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