Even though India is the world's single largest producer of generic medicines, the tragedy is that 65% of the population still lacks regular access to essential medicines because they are priced way above their reach. In a move that could tilt the balance in favour of the aam aadmi, a ministerial
panel has asked the health ministry to fast-track a law that will make it mandatory for doctors to prescribe generic medicines (which are cheaper than their branded counterparts) to their patients. For example, the generic price for a pack of 10 tablets of amoxicillin is Rs. 4.24, but its branded equivalent is about Rs. 42.62. If the law is put in place, the average price reduction of medicines would be about 11% and the reduction on some medicines from large companies, domestic and foreign, could be as high as up to 75%.
Thanks to the high expenses on medicines, over 23% of the sick don't seek treatment. A study by the World Bank shows 30% of people fall below the poverty line as a result of a single hospitalisation. The expenditure on drugs constitutes about 50% of the healthcare costs which increases to 80% in rural areas and it is the second most common cause for rural indebtedness here. Doctors prescribe expensive branded drugs because they depend on medical representatives (MRs) who often manage to impress upon them that even if a particular brand is costly, it's the most-effective one in the market. Then there is the business of branding: consumers often buy the same drug marketed by different manufacturers under different names, not realising that they are the same product. Paracetamol, for example, is the generic name for a painkiller but it is available under more than 20 brand names like Crocin, Calpol etc. The other problem is that companies also create monopolies by using marketing strategies and offering huge margins to retailers and doctors. However, where the government has stepped in, like in Chittorgarh in Rajasthan where the district administration has opened generic medicines shops, the expenditure on medicines has come down drastically and the response from the people has been overwhelming.
It is imperative that in a country like India, where the public healthcare system is in a shambles, the government intervenes to control the price of drugs for the benefit of the masses.