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14 July 2010
Right Move On Generic Medicines
THE Delhi government needs to be commended on its recent directive to doctors in state–owned hospitals to prescribe generic and not branded medicines. Its fiat to these hospitals to open more generic drug stores under the Centre’s Jan Aushadhi programme is also welcome. These initiatives will make medicines more affordable, lower the cost of healthcare and break the nexus between doctors and pharma companies. Unlike consumer products, patients cannot choose from different brands and often do not know their generic equivalent. So, they are compelled to buy the brand prescribed by the doctor. Doctors have a vested interest in pushing branded versions as they are rewarded by pharma companies that spend huge amounts of money to promote their brands. The unethical practice has gone on for years. This is unacceptable. Last month, the Union health ministry showed the way, asking central government hospitals to mandatorily mention the generic name of a drug when they prescribe a medicine. The Rajasthan government and then the Delhi government took the cue. Other states should follow. They must also ensure the consumer reaps the benefit of lower prices. This can happen only if the commission structure becomes transparent. Today, many small companies make generic drugs. However, the trail of commission from the producer downwards isn’t clear. That must change if the goal is to give the best deal to consumers.
Systems should also be in place for quality checks on generic drugs. That means tighter regulation. In the US, drugs are sold only by their generic names. The regulatory system there ensures drugmakers comply with the stringent norms on quality. India should move in the same direction, strengthen regulation and crack down on unethical marketing practices. Stiff penalties on errant companies are a must. Insurers can certainly play a role. They should be empowered to question doctors or hospitals found to be indulging in malpractices. Ultimately, doctors must be made accountable.
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