The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has recommended a price increase for more than 110 medicines after critical shortages of dozens of essential medicines across the country. These medicines are either no longer being produced by the local pharmaceutical companies or their manufacturers have expressed an inability to continue production if their prices were not increased.
To comply with the orders of the Islamabad High Court, DRAP has submitted a list of more than 110 vital medications to the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) as hardship cases, recommending that the Ministry increase the pricing of these items by 30–50%. An official with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) said that among these drugs is lithium carbonate, “a vital pharmaceutical used to treat manic-depressive condition and prevent suicidal inclinations.” Over 110 essential medicines, including treatments for mental illness, cancer, broad-spectrum antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, diagnostic medicines, and several other classes of medicines, are either no longer available on the market or pharmaceutical companies have reduced production as the cost of production has increased manifolds due to the devaluation of the rupee and an increase in the prices of raw materials.
The government recently lowered the price of 20 medications and set the costs of 20 new medications, however it submitted the matter of a medication price hike to the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet. The DRAP representative claimed that in the past few weeks they have received over 400 applications for price increases on medicines as “hardship cases,” but after careful consideration they have only proposed price increases on 110 medicines whose unavailability is causing the patients extreme hardship. An honourable judge of the Islamabad High Court said this when he heard the case about the lack of medicines: “The most expensive medicine is the one which is not available in the market,” the DRAP official said, adding that the organisation has forwarded its recommendations to the federal health ministry for a price increase because of the hardships this shortage has caused for the people. Pharmacists and other healthcare workers have reported widespread shortages of important drugs, resulting in the cancellation of lifesaving procedures including organ transplants and other surgeries. In addition to the local pharmaceutical industry ceasing manufacture of some vital medications, the dollar liquidity constraint has prevented the import of several essential drugs required in organ donation. Salwa Ahsan, a senior pharmacist at a major tertiary care hospital in the nation’s capital, claimed that the scenario has created a “severe health catastrophe” in the country.