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Drugs list set to be overhauled

Bhuma Shrivastava & Bipin Chandran  |  New Delhi 

Medicines, under the National List of Essential Drugs 2003, will soon be placed in the therapeutic category.
"At present, the definition of a 'life-saving drug' is not clear. To bring clarity, the list will be overhauled. Drugs are likely to be categorised under therapeutic areas like epidemics, HIV/AIDS and preventive medicine. At present, they are seen as specific drugs," said an official with the chemicals and petrochemicals ministry.
The list now has 354 drugs. It also includes a range of compounds and medicinal material like cotton wool and oxygen. At a meeting of a consultative committee attached to the ministry today, said none of the 354 in Essential List was patented, and all were available cheap and abundantly.
Paswan also told the grievance cell of his department that the national pharma pricing authority(NPPA) should be publicised adequately to make it more popular and accessible. He said the people should be able to contact the grievance officer in case of low quality, shortage or non-availability of
The people below the poverty line would be getting medicines free, he added. The ministry had also prepared a background paper to dispel fears of a spurt in drug prices to unaffordable levels in the product patents regime.
It stated that with 95 per cent of drugs off patents, and mechanisms like compulsory licensing and parallel imports in place, price hikes were a distant possibility. The paper argued that the "limited purchasing power of Indians will act as a check for any explosive price rise of patented drugs.
"Unlike the UK and the US, the consumers in India pay out of their pockets. They do not have a blanket insurance cover. The dynamics of the market alone will play out in such a way that overpriced patented drugs may get priced out."
It said drugs, at present, in the Indian market or those that had been patented prior to January 1,1995, could not be patented in India.
It added that even those that did fall in the patents category were very small in number. It said the worldover, patents did not tantamount to commercial exploitation of molecules, and only 15-20 new drugs entered the market each year.
The document also cited a number of committees that were reviewing the issue. The JS Sandhu Committee was looking into price margins and controls, and its span.
The Sandhu Committee had suggested intensive price monitoring, ceilings on price margins, a special scheme for below the poverty line people, and introduction of hospital pharmacy stores run by medicare societies, as in Rajasthan, the paper said.
A task force set up by the Prime Minister has recommended debranding of generic drugs, price negotiations on patented drugs, and setting up of a reference price.
Besides, with a differentiated price mechanism scheme for patented drugs, a new drug price control order, and a full-blown pharmaceutical policy under way, the government believes to have the problem of a possible price rise firmly under control.

First Published: Fri, August 26 2005. 00:00 IST