Control drug prices, consultation fees
Daily Mirror Editorial
Mar 27, 2011

With the rupee value plunging and the cost of imported items soaring, the Government needs to move fast and effectively to curb prices of vital imported items like medicinal drugs.

For more than seven years, the Government has given various reasons or excuses for delaying a comprehensive National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) through which quality drugs could be made available to all people at affordable prices. Instead of cost-effective drugs we have only been given an overdose of promises and promises.

The latest promise by Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena was that the NMDP would be presented soon with provision for the setting up of a National Medicinal Drugs Regulatory Authority (NMDRA) which would hopefully implement Professor Senaka Bibile’s Essential Medicines Concept and reduce the number of drugs being imported from more than 13,000 to about 1,500. This will help bring about quality control and post-marketing surveillance while helping the cash-strapped Sri Lanka to save millions of dollars in foreign exchange by stopping the import of thousands of non-essential drugs.

With all these benefits for the country, the patriotic movements which have been screaming about what was happening in Geneva should also join the campaign for the implementation of the Senaka Bibile policies because among those blocking them are transnational vested interests, which are plundering money from Sri Lanka.

The Heath Minister has also promised that gazette notifications would be issued within the next two weeks giving a list of essential drugs and a list of nonessential drugs. He says price control will be imposed on the essential drugs but patients’ rights groups say that until they see the gazette notifications and legislation for the NMDP they cannot be sure that the promise will be kept, whether they will bring real relief to the patients or whether they will be like paracaetamol for cancer.

Recently the Daily Mirror also spotlighted another form of plunder in the private health sector but the ministry appears to be crippled on a sick bed in vital areas where action needs to be taken for the health and benefit of the people. This scandal is in the channel practice system.

Essentially the channel practice system was intended to be a public welfare service whereby anyone who wishes to consult a medical specialist could do so in a convenient way and at an affordable price. The fee for the channel practice in 1969 was Rs.20 for the specialist and Rs.5 for the private hospital or clinic. Now some private hospitals are charging about Rs.500 for the limited facilities they provide. If the 4:1 ratio is followed, then the medical specialist could charge Rs.2000 and the total consultation cost will be Rs.2500. Only the rich will survive and the poor left to die. Fortunately most of the medical specialists do not charge so much.

If the Health Ministry cannot or does not act to regulate the fee for channel practice, then we urge the Sri Lanka Medical Council headed by Professor Carlo Fonseka to intervene and impose some ethics so that the once noble vocation of medicine will not turn into a full-scale business.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka