ISLAMABAD: The caretaker government on Wednesday notified an increase in prices of 146 essential drugs in line with the federal cabinet’s decision of February 1, 2024.

A notification issued here by the Ministry of National Health Services and Regulations said, “In exercise of the powers conferred by section 36 of the Drug Act 1976, the federal government, being of the opinion that the public interest so requires, is pleased to exempt all drugs and biological not included in the National Essential Medicines List, from the operation of section 12 of the said act”.

On February 1, 2024, a federal cabinet meeting, chaired by interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar approved the move under the hardship category on the recommendation of the National Health Services Ministry, which informed the huddle about the rising prices of raw material for preparing the medicines in the global market.

Deregulation of non-essential drugs on the cards

The National Health Services Ministry and the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) told the meeting that citizens could file complaints about the unavailability of medicines in the market through the pharmaceutical industry regulator’s online portal.

The decision, conveyed through a drug price hike notification, primarily targets essential medications crucial for treating conditions such as cancer, vaccines, and antibiotics. The Health Ministry officials have disclosed that the move follows a recommendation from the Drug Regulatory Authority, which proposed an increase in the prices of 262 medicines. However, the government has opted to implement adjustments exclusively for 146 medicines vital for saving lives.

Of the medicines listed for price increments, 116 are slated for price adjustments to be executed by pharmaceutical companies themselves.

Notably, the government will now exercise control over the prices of 464 medicines featured in the National Essential Medicines List, ensuring that critical medications remain accessible to the populace.

In a bold policy shift, the government has deregulated drug prices, granting pharmaceutical companies the autonomy to independently raise prices. This move underscores a paradigm shift in the governance of pharmaceutical pricing, potentially reshaping the dynamics of the healthcare industry.

As stakeholders digest the implications of these changes, concerns over affordability and access to life-saving medications loom large. While the government aims to strike a balance between ensuring the viability of pharmaceutical companies and safeguarding public health interests, the repercussions of these adjustments remain subject to scrutiny and debate.

However, following the cabinet approval of increasing medicine prices an acute shortage of various essential drugs was witnessed in the wholesale and retail market.

According to drug distributors and retailers, the manufacturers were waiting for a formal notification of an increase in the medicine prices by the Health Ministry and not releasing the supply in the market.

Owing to this practice, the patients were highly suffering and the release of notification on one side will ensure the availability of the medicines in the market but at the same time it will further burden the poor consumers who are already facing serious price hike, said Mohammad Samiullah Awan, a drug retailer.

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