High drug prices in the market act as a great barrier in seeking effective healthcare, as most people are unable to afford costly medicines. Drug prices usually grow faster than the national or per capita income in our country and cut into the household budget heavily. The poor and the middle class are the worst hit. There are instances when people go without drugs (by extension without treatment) or buy a small proportion of the required doses of drugs due to high prices. In the market that thrives on diseases, both cheap and costly medicines are available. Medicines for cancer range from Rs 8 thousand to more than a lakh. Calcium tablets cost, depending on the brand, between Rs 7 per strip or Rs 70 per strip. We don’t know why the prices vary so much. Why are generic medicines cheap and branded medicines costly?
GENERIC AND BRANDED MEDICINES DEBATE
Generic medicines are unbranded medicines which are equally safe and have the same efficacy as that of branded medicines in terms of their therapeutic value. The price of generic medicines is much cheaper than of their branded equivalent. Generic medicines work in the same way and provide the same clinical benefits as their branded-name version. In branded medicines, the composition is the same as of generic drugs but there is patent cost, incentives for MRs, incentives for the doctors who prescribe it, and all these costs together make them costlier. For example, if manufacturing cost of a drug is Rs 1, it can be available in the market from anywhere between Rs 100 and Rs 1000. Doctors, pharmaceutical corporations, and retail sellers function in a nexus in which consumers are caught. The popular perception is that if a medicine is not branded and is cheap, it is of low quality. This argument is wrong and is not based on any evidence or logic
The JAN AUSHADHI SCHEME
India is the largest supplier of generic drugs in the world and Indian pharmaceutical companies have been trying to push down the cost of medicines in many countries across the world. Yet, in India itself, the marginalised population has less access to medicines owing to high costs. Hence there is urgent need for making the cheaper generic drugs available to Indians. To ensure that every Indian has access to quality healthcare at affordable prices, an initiative with the name of Jan Aushudhi Scheme is being implemented through the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI), which is a society set up by the five pharma PSUs in India. The Bureau works under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisersof the Government of India.
The Jan Aushudhi medicines have played a big role in bringing down the expenditure of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases in India. The PMBJP scheme has led to total savings of approximately Rs 1000/- crore for common citizens. These medicines are cheaper by 50% to 90% of the average market price.
With the opening of over 5,050 Jan Aushadhi stores across 652 districts, the availability of high-quality affordable generic medicines has increased in the country. About 10-15 lakh people benefit from Jan Aushadhi medicines every day and the market share of generic medicines has grown over three-fold from 2% to 7%in the last 3 years.
Though bound by law, neither doctors nor pharmacies want to dispense generic medicines to patients as the profit margin is low. Laws in India specify that all medical prescriptions should mention generic medicines and all pharmacies must make them available to patients. But aggressive marketing by private pharma companies, cut-throat competition, and ignorance on the part of customers coupled with weak enforcement of rules allow private manufactures of branded medicines to make a killing through the retail sellers.
—Sohail Khan is an RTI activist & a member of J&K Youth Parliament