Prescribe Cheaper Drugs, Health Minister Tells Doctors
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12 May 2010
By Vineeta Pandey
New Delhi, India
Don’t get puzzled if your doctor writes an unheard–of drug on your prescription instead of the usual painkiller or analgesic tablet you are used to. The Union health ministry has issued a diktat to government doctors that they must prescribe cheaper generic alternatives instead of costly branded drugs.
Sources said health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has taken the step to break the nexus between doctors and pharmaceutical companies, and wants the states to follow suit. “It has been found that doctors prescribe expensive antibiotics and painkillers produced by multinational pharmaceutical companies even though there are generic alternatives,” Azad said.
“It often transpires that these companies sponsor foreign jaunts, shower gifts or give a commission to the doctors. This is an unhealthy practice and we want to stop this.”
Azad has ordered government hospitals to make generic drugs available in their dispensaries. A senior health ministry official said: “Though generic and branded medicines have the same effect, doctors usually prescribe branded medicines, which are expensive, to patients.”
But doctors say generic drugs are not popular and not easily available. “Since trade names (branded drugs) are popular and easily available in the market, they are easy to prescribe,” said Dr Dharam Prakash, secretary, Indian Medical Association (IMA). “So it is important that generic names of drugs are made available to doctors so they know which medicines to prescribe.”
Generic drug suppliers contested the argument. “Even if doctors do not know the names of the medicines, they can prescribe the salt name. Doctors in PGI, Chandigarh, do this,” said Darshan Mittal, president, Delhi Generic Medicine Dealers Association. “Generic drugs are cheaper and equally effective, and are easily available in the market (contrary to doctors’ claims).”
A generic drug is a copy of a branded drug. It is as safe and effective as the branded one, but comes at a fraction of the price because of low production costs. Generic drug manufacturers do not spend on drug discovery and trials. Instead, they reverse–engineer known drug compounds. India is the fourth–largest exporter of generic drugs.