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Editorial-People getting sick of the Health Ministry

17 December 2013 07:25 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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With more people continuing to fall sick more often due to a little bit of poison in the food we eat and growing pollution of the air and water, the Health Ministry has promised that price control on medicinal drugs will be imposed as New-Year relief for the people.

Health action groups and most people are cynically sick of the promises made by the Health Ministry, especially on the implementation of the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) based on Prof. Senaka Bibile’s essential medicines concept. In Parliament last week Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena again promised the NMDP would be implemented from next year. The Minister in one breath said January next year and in another breath said in the early part of next year. He has been saying “soon, soon” for years but that soon has not come and most people are sceptical about whether the soon will come at all or whether it is a bluff like in hundreds or thousands of instances in this era of damn lies, deception and dictatorial trends.

For what it is worth, Health Ministry Secretary Nihal Jayatilleke told the media over the weekend that price control would be implemented from next month because some heartless drug companies were selling drugs at a staggering or shocking profit margin of 800% to 1000%. He said consultations were being held with the Trade Ministry Secretary and the two ministries would jointly and effectively impose the price controls. Well and good, but we hope some trans-national drug corporations would not be allowed to delay, derail or dilute this action as they appear to be doing with legislation to implement the NMDP.

While the delay drags on, rackets and scandals are spreading like an epidemic. Earlier this month the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) accused the Cosmetic Drugs and Devices Regulatory Authority Chairman Hemantha Beneragama of indulging in some jugglery relating to the import of about 50 drugs including life-saving cancer drugs. The GMOA, comprising some 15,000 doctors, charged that Dr. Beneragama had bypassed proper tender procedures and the doctors would take tough trade union action if an independent inquiry was not held. The College of Oncologists has also made similar complaints and rejected the explanation given by Dr. Beneragama.

While price control is welcome, it is more important to introduce comprehensive legislation for the implementation of the NMDP. The Health Ministry’s Medical Supplies Division Director Kamala Jayasinghe has reportedly told the media that about 1000 varieties of drugs were being imported. But spokesmen of the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) and other health action groups say the number of drugs registered for import is more than 13,000, but no one really knows how many of them come in because there is chaos in drug imports instead of quality control and post-marketing surveillance.

If the NMDP is implemented, the number of drugs being imported could be reduced to less than 1000 essential or life-saving drugs. The NMDP calls for the appointment of an independent National Medicinal Drugs Regulatory Authority (NMDRA) which will re-register all drugs with the registration being based on five factors - quality, safety, efficacy, the cost of the drug and the need for it. If this is effectively implemented, millions of people will have access to quality drugs at affordable prices and the country could save hundreds of millions of dollars by stopping the import of thousands of non-essential drugs.

With so many benefits for the people and the country, health rights groups are asking why the Government is delaying the implementation of the NMDP and whether it is a social cancer of trans-national pharmaceutical companies being allowed to violate Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and virtually run our health sector in a manner that is turning the noble vocation of medicine into a thundering if not plundering business.
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