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Cabinet set to address medicine price hike issue today

ISLAMABAD: With the PTI-led government coming under increasing public and political pressure to rein in sweeping price hike of medicines, the federal cabinet plans to take up the issue when it meets on Tuesday (today) and discuss ways by which they can dial down the prices.

“We have decided to take up the matter of medicines in the meeting of the federal cabinet, scheduled on Tuesday [today], and hope there will be substantial reduction,” said Health Secretary Zahid Saeed before the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services (NHS) on Monday.

The committee was discussing the ‘Point of Public Importance’ on the topic of the recent increase in the prices of medicines raised by Senator Sirajul Haq, the chief of Jamaat-i-Islami.

Briefing the committee members on pharmaceutical companies increasing the prices of various medicines, the health secretary said, “prices of medicines were increased, across the board, in 2001. Later in 2013 they were increased by 15 per cent but next day then prime minister [Nawaz Sharif] took notice and that notification was withdrawn.

Health secretary promises govt will act against offending companies

“In 2018, issues related to health were being discussed in the Supreme Court, the pharmaceutical industry demanded increasing the prices due to which court directed to look into the issue and later directed to decide it in 10 weeks. So we increased prices of 466 medicines and directed to decrease prices of 395 medicines. However, pharmaceutical companies did not decrease the prices and sought a stay order from Sindh High Court. Later that stay order was vacated by the court.”

Promising to take tougher action against the offending companies, he said, “The pharma industry has agreed to reduce the prices but we have decided to move against them in the drugs court to recover the amount collected by them while the stay order was intact. We have also told them to advertise old and new [reduced] prices of medicines in the newspapers.”

“A few months ago the pharmaceutical industry again insisted on increasing the prices as they argued that back in December 2017 the rate of one USD was Rs110 but in December 2018 it was Rs138. Thus, they increased the prices of 40,000 medicines by 15 per cent.

“The issue is of only 464 medicines, of which prices of 360 medicines were increased by up to 50pc, 52 medicines’ prices were increased from 50pc to 75pc and prices of 52 medicines were increased from 75 to 300pc.”

Committee chairman Mian Ateeq Shaikh reminded the health secretary of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise to have prices of medicines reduced within 72 hours, but it seems “his directions were not implemented”, he said.

Mr Ateeq wanted to know more and asked the health secretary to provide the committee details of the drugs whose prices had increased, reasons why they were allowed and who had proposed the price increase.

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