Dhaka, Bangladesh
Pharmaceutical industry freewheeling on pricing

Pharmaceutical industry freewheeling on pricing

Drugs cost patients dear as admin looks on, medicos blame oligopoly

Mazharul Islam Mitchel: Pharmaceutical industry dictates the terms to the drug administration as prices of medicines, including lifesaving ones, keep spiraling every month, sources said. Officials in the key institution also admit to their ineffectiveness in doing their duties of controlling drug society and properly maintaining the quality and price of products in this vital sector. General Secretary of the apex body of physicians, Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA), Dr Md. Ehteshamul Huq Choudhury told The News Today that all foreign companies quit their business activities in Bangladesh because of local 'syndicate'. ''The industry is now in the grips of international mafia. The owners of the industries in our country are not also beyond their network. This is an 'open secret' in our country,'' he said. BMA office secretary Dr. Shahidullah said the industry people are increasing the drug prices every month. The MRP (Maximum Retail Price) on box-label is printed. ''So, the companies are intentionally increasing the price.'' Drug Administration Director-General Major-General Md. Mahbubur Rahman, DPH, MCPS, MMEd, said at least eleven essential drug prices increased while ninety drugs' prices were adjusted, which means all companies fixed the same price. At least one hundred and twenty-eight drugs' prices have decreased, he added. Professor Dr Saidur Rahman Khasru, Pharmacology departmental of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told the media that the controlled drugs are taken by only five-percent people. "The prices of drugs that are commonly used to treat diseases like high blood pressure, gastric, cancer, diabetics, cardiac and different types of injections have doubled over the last six months," said Raju Hossain Raj, a salesman at Drugs Point in the city's Malibagh Rail Gate area. Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (BAPI) general secretary Mohammad Shafiuzzaman has some points to justify the price rises. He told The News Today that production cost of all kinds increased and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) increased income tax and customs duty. ''So, we were compelled to increase the medicine prices.'' Customs First Security and Additional Director-General of Central Risk Management unit AKM Nurul Huda Azad said no customs tax and advance income tax increased. ''Even they are getting all kinds of duty-free facilities in importing raw materials.'' Tax-policy member of the NBR Alamgir Hossain said the pharmaceutical companies are enjoying the maximum low tax rates. Deputy Commissioner and Second Secretary of VAT policy Tariq Hassan said lifesaving drugs like that for cancers have been exempted from VAT and TB. BMA Social Welfare Secretary Dr. Shohel Mahmud said the present government is giving them more facilities and tax exemptions so that they are able to export medicines abroad. ''So, why will we give more prices for medicines?'' he questioned. About the unusual price hike of medicines, DGDA Maj-General Md Mahbubur Rahman said there are more than 26,000 medicine items on the market, but the Drug Administration fixes the prices of only 117 essential ones. The DG said the other drug prices are controlled by the industry itself. If the companies want to increase the prices of the remaining items, the DA director-general said, the DGDA has no legal instrument to resist their bid. The BMA secretary, Dr Mohammad Ehteshamul Haque Choudhury, in a swinging criticism, said no excuse can be granted for drug administration and manufacturers. ''Staffs of all the administrations, including ministry, Directorate General of Health Services and drug administration, are unqualified people who don't know about the health issues,'' the physicians' association leader said in a scathing remark on what should have been the bodies of most efficient personnel. BMA Cultural Secretary Professor Devnath said the prices of the most of medicines had increased. When drug prices go up, customers pick a quarrel with them and ask them why the medicine price is increased, BMA organising secretary Tarik Mehedi Parvej said, adding, "We've nothing to do when pharmaceutical companies increase prices at their sweet will." The medico community leaders urged the authorities to take initiative immediately for decreasing the medicine prices. Pharmacy owners and customers deplored that since the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) has no legal instrument yet to control the prices of medicines, drug companies increase the medicine price rampantly. Analysts are of the view that since healthcare is a basic right of people, government should have effective control over production, quality and pricing of medicines.

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