After some eight years of delays which were deliberate or due to lethargy, excuses or broken promises and a mysterious disappearance of the draft, legislation for the implementation of Prof. Senake Bibile’s national medicinal drugs policy was on Monday personally handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa by Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena.
Mr. Sirisena, in a speech at his home-base of Polonnaruwa to mark the 25th anniversary of his election to Parliament, said after 40 years of ‘lots of talk but little action’ he and the Rajapaksa Government were now determined to implement the Bibile Policy under which people would have access to quality drugs at affordable prices. The Minister, who also spoke on the Janapathi Janahamuwa telecast live on five TV channels on March 7, said as many as 14,000 varieties of medicinal drugs had been registered for import. He said the State Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Corporation, set up more than 40 years ago, was producing only about 200 varieties though Sri Lanka had the natural and human resources to produce many more than that.
Sri Lanka will be able to save millions of dollars in foreign exchange annually by stopping the import of thousands of varieties of drugs which come under highly-expensive brand names
In terms of the national medicinal drugs policy, for which a comprehensive draft was approved by the Cabinet as far back as October 2005, the number of drugs to be imported prescribed and sold would be reduced to about 1000 varieties. Thus Sri Lanka will be able to save millions of dollars in foreign exchange annually by stopping the import of thousands of varieties of drugs which come under highly-expensive brand names. Furthermore, the major reduction in the number of imported drugs would enable the National Drug Quality Assurance Laboratory to test samples of all imported drugs to ensure they are of good quality and also to carry out post-marketing surveillance. At present hundreds of varieties of drugs are known to be coming from cottage industries or other dubious sources while some racketeers are also known to be hiring smugglers to bring in bag-loads of counterfeit drugs from India or Pakistan. Some pharmacies are known to buy these counterfeit drugs at half the normal rate if not less, thus people who buy expensive drugs for various ailments will be shocked to know that what is inside the capsule is wheat flour.
The first step in the national medicinal drugs policy when it is implemented will be the setting up of a national medicinal drugs regulatory authority comprising highly-qualified professionals and known to be officials of high integrity. The NMDRA’S first task will be to review the whole list of some 14,000 drugs and cut the number down to about 1000 varieties of life-saving or essential drugs. The NMDRA is expected to review and reduce the list of imported drugs on the basis of five factors – quality, safety, efficacy, the cost of the drug and the need for it. Several trans-national drug companies, which the Minister recently alleged were part of the drug mafia trying to block the Bibile Policies, are known to be opposed to the fourth and fifth factors - the cost of the drug and the need for it. We hope Minister Sirisena and the Rajapaksa Government will not allow the drug mafia to have its way, and will implement the Bibile Policy fully as a major step towards restoring a health service where the wellbeing of the patients is given top priority.
For more than fifteen years the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) campaigned vigorously for the Bibile Policy. The PMRP’s founder-patron and international health action activist Dr. K. Balasubramanim, whose guru was Prof. Senaka Bibile, virtually gave his life for it. Others in the forefront of this campaign included Prof Carlo Fonseka who is now the Chairman of the Governing Body for Medicine, the Sri Lanka Medical Council. All these groups and the people of Sri Lanka are grateful to Minister Sirisena and the Government for giving this special avurudu gift, so that Sri Lanka will be a healthy, happy and therefore wealthy nation.