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The Hindu
27 May 2010

The Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry has directed doctors at all Central government hospitals and autonomous institutions to mention the names of equivalent generic drugs whenever a branded drug is prescribed to patients.

Generic drugs are much cheaper than branded drugs but as effective. The prescriptions will be regularly monitored by the Directorate–General of Health Services.

The decision follows feedback that doctors in government hospitals and autonomous institutions often prescribe specific brands of medicine with a rider that no substitute should be supplied. Instances had also come to notice of the authorities where the prescribed drug was very expensive and cheaper substitutes were available.

The patient, however, had no choice but to procure the prescribed drug. The matter was considered by the competent authority, which observed that generic drugs were usually cheaper than branded drugs and that government hospitals should hence provide only good quality generic medicines.

For example, if a doctor prescribes the tablet Crocin, the prescription should read “Tablet Crocin or any other equivalent drug.”The hospital would then have the flexibility of providing generic equivalents of the prescribed medicine.

According to the World Health Organisation report prepared for the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) – ‘Promoting Rational Drug Use under NRHM’ – generic drugs, which are usually produced when a branded drug loses its patent (approximately 20 years after the patent application was registered) can tremendously increase the availability, affordability and efficient use of medicines.

The report says price appears to be the real difference between most branded and generic drugs, since generic drugs are held to the same quality standards for safety and performance as branded names, yet can sell for 30–80 per cent less.

On an average, most generic drugs cost approximately half the price of their branded counterparts. “However, the prices of even generic drugs are being manipulated by larger companies, which have been acquiring smaller generic drug companies and keeping the drugs process high to discourage their use,”the report adds.

The report says that it is extremely important that generic drugs be protected from price manipulation and that they be used in the public health care system, as it will drastically bring down the government’s drug expenditure, allowing more money to be spent on other areas of healthcare that will otherwise be neglected.

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