Patient’s rights group to meet MR

With no drug policy, cartels stand to gain: PMRP

By Carol Aloysius
A delegation from The People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP), hopes to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa to persuade him to implement the much delayed and long overdue National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) aimed at providing quality, affordable drugs for all.
Speaking at the inauguration of the first Dr K. Balasubramanium lecture at the Centre for Religious Studies Saturday, Prof. Tuley de Silva, Past President of the Pharmaceuticals Society of Sri Lanka said that meeting the President would be their final option in getting this long overdue piece of legislation implemented .
“We are not doing this as a personal favour for us. We are simply trying to help the public to get the best quality drugs at an affordable price which will also save the country of a great deal of valuable foreign exchange”, Louis Benedict , President of the PMRP said.
Prof. Carlo Fonseka, Former Dean, Medical Faculty, University of Kelaniya, said the NMDP was originally conceived by the late Prof. Seneka Bibile, head of the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation, and modelled on his essential medicines concept. “Although it is now implemented in over a hundred countries, sadly, our own country has still to implement it”, he observed. He said that after Prof. Bibile’s death, Dr K. Balasubramanium, had taken on the role or pushing for the patient friendly legislation in Sri Lanka and at international fora.

In 2005, the latter had led a PMRP delegation in discussions among stakeholders to work out a comprehensive draft for the NMDP. This draft was approved by the Cabinet in 2005 but not implemented despite repeated promises of two previous health ministers. This led the PMRP to file a fundamental rights case in the Supreme Court.
He added that the implementation of the NMPD was one of the promises in the Mahinda Chintanaya for the Presidential elections in 2005 and last year. Legislation to implement had been approved by a Cabinet of Ministers in 2007.
Yet four years later they were no closer to their goal. He noted that, “the present Health Minister Maithrapala Sirisena seems much more favourable towards implementing the Act. However, he too is procrastinating for some reason. He told us he would be implementing it in January this year. When we reminded him he said he would implement it in July, and then August. Now it is almost September and he says he hopes to implement it by the end of the year. But although the Minister is willing to implement it, he will probably be restrained by Drug cartels who stand to profit by not implementing the NMPD.”, Benedict said.
Benedict noted that Sri Lanka only needed around a thousand essential drugs although over 9,000 drugs were being imported to the country each year.
“We have over 100 varieties of Amoxycillin alone, when a doctor needs only about 3-4 brands to choose from for his patients. So why get down so many brands?”, Prof. de Silva asked. He pointed out that many doctors were still prescribing drugs under brand names which were much costlier than drugs under generic names although quality wise both were practically the same.
“If we implement the NMPD, it will also save the country millions of rupees in foreign exchange now spent on transnational drug companies and other vested interests. We hope to send a delegation to meet the President soon to discuss and convince him. He should resolve this long standing issue quickly.”