From big pharma to Bibile; a health dream comes true - EDITORIAL

2015-02-06 18:30:00

ome 36 years after the mystery-death of Professor Senaka Bibile, regarded worldwide as one of the great personalities in modern medicine, the cabinet of the new all-party National Unity Government on Thursday approved a cabinet paper to draft a Bill to implement the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP). 

The NMDP based largely on Prof. Bibile’s essential medicines concept, had been successfully implemented in Sri Lanka from 1971 to 1976 till transnational pharmaceutical giants forced the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to scrap the policy. The dejected Prof. Bibile went to British Guyana where he worked for the United Nations (UN) till he died under mysterious circumstances. 

The NMDP Bill to be presented in Parliament soon and implemented from next month is based on a comprehensive draft worked out in July 2005 approved by the Cabinet in October that year. Since then, despite promise after broken promise, the NMDP went here, there and nowhere, apparently because the same ‘big pharma’ mafia which got rid of Prof. Bible was sabotaging or blocking the Bill in different ways. A Draft Bill prepared last year mysteriously disappeared with the then Health Minister and now President Maithripala Sirisena charging that the former Chief Legal Draftswoman had been bought over by big pharma. President Sirisena and new Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne have also charged that big pharma had given as much as Rs. 1,000 million to VVIPs last year to block the Bill. They said they would name and shame the VVIPs soon but Mr. Senaratne told a cabinet news briefing on Thursday it was difficult to find substantial evidence to prove these charges. 

Even the latest Draft Bill, worked out by a committee headed by Professor Lal Jayakody, Dean of the Department of Pharmacology in the Faculty of Medicine was tampered with, allegedly under the influence of big pharma. A committee member said when the final draft was sent back to them from the Legal Draftsman’s Department, they found that three important clauses had been deleted.  These related to the cost of the drugs to be registered, a clause relating to any conflict of interest in those appointed to the proposed National Medicinal Drugs Regulatory Authority (NMDRA) and a prescription of drugs in their generic names. The committee insisted that these clauses be replaced and this was done. The Chief Legal Draftsman had claimed that an officer at the Department had unintentionally deleted the vital clauses but the committee members said only a person with an advanced knowledge of pharmacology could have made such deletions. 

Whatever happened or did not happen, an undiluted bill is now ready and Prof.  Bibile from wherever he is, must be happy that his own beloved country and people are at last implementing legislation to make quality drugs available at affordable prices. According to the Health Minister, prices of drugs will be reduced by 60 percent to 75 percent with the effective implementation of the law. At present, about 15,000 drugs are registered for import and prescription. The People’s Movement for the Right of Patients (PMRP) another health action group says about 80 percent of these drugs are non-essential and imported under highly expensive brand names. In terms of the new law, the number of drugs being imported will be gradually reduced to about thousand varieties with different dosages. As a result, Sri Lanka will save hundreds of millions of rupees in foreign exchange while the people will have access to quality, safe and efficacious drugs at affordable prices. 

Initially, the doctors will be required to write the generic name also in instances where they believe it is necessary to prescribe a brand name. The Health Minister told a news conference he hoped that within five years the State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation would be able to meet Sri Lanka’s medicinal needs and there would be no room for big pharma to manipulate Sri Lanka’s health service. 

At present, Sri Lanka imports even bandages and saline. This is a disgrace for a country that has produced one of the best pharmacologists in the world. We hope that in this new era, the dream of Prof. Bibile will come true to provide good health not only for the rich but for all the people of our country. 

  Comments - 4

  • Maybebi Saturday, 7 February 2015 17:04

    Bravo! Hope the authorities can stand firm against the Pharma mafia! Will be difficult, as they can wriggle their way in by hook or crook.

    Reply : 0       0

    Karu Saturday, 7 February 2015 18:38

    Prof. Senaka Bibile resigned from SPC because his political party was ousted from coalition. He was a Polit Buraeu member of LSSP at that time. Though President Promised during election campaign that he will forward the bill to parliament whithin one month up to today it was not forwarded to parliament. It was approved by the Cabinet. But to become a law it has to get speakers signature after parliament approval.

    Reply : 0       0

    pujitha Saturday, 7 February 2015 19:40

    In 1977 the UNP government scrapped the BIBILE concept or drug policy because they succumbed to the pressure by big drug companies of the west. They will do the same the day Maitri leaves as president. J R Jayawardena appointed an IRC as the Chair person of the Pharmaceutical Corporation and got rid of Prof. Bibile.

    Reply : 0       0

    CSM Saturday, 7 February 2015 20:17

    great news. At last a government for the people

    Reply : 0       0

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