SHORTAGE OF ESSENTIAL MEDICINES

The worst sufferers of this rampant unscrupulous practices are the poor

By SYED M. ASLAM
Jan 19 - 25, 2004

An acute shortage of a range of essential drugs is playing havoc with the public health. Many of these drugs have been in virtual short supply over the years due to manufacturers' "discontent about low profitability margins" while there is a routine shortage of others every now and then.

The whole range of Augmentin, one of the top selling antibiotic marketed by multinational Beecham, has been in acute short supply over the last month. Till this week both the tablet and the syrup versions of the drug was in acute short supply though the later has started arriving into the whole market last week. However, the tablet version of the medicine remains still in short supply. Market sources told PAGE that the 6-tablet bottle of 375mg is wholesaling for Rs 60 instead of the fixed price of Rs 54. Similarly the 6-tablet bottle of the 625mg is wholesaling for Rs 90 instead of the fixed price of Rs 84. The 375mg bottle is available to the retailers for Rs 60 while the 625mg bottle is available to them at Rs 90. The retail price of the 375mg bottle is fixed at Rs 63.35 while the retail price of 625mg is fixed at Rs 99.35 and thus reducing the margin of profit to the retailers. As the retailers are not supposed to sell the medicine over the printed price they are left with only two options both of them detrimental to the public health. Number one, stop buying the medicine altogether or keep selling it at lower profit margins. Since the drug is in great demand due to the widespread seasonal fever at present no retailer can afford not to have this particular medicine. However, the retailers are ready to absorb the profitability only if a buyer buys a number of items from their shop to make up for the loss. A buyer wanting to buy only this particular drug is usually told by the retailer that it is just not available. The same is the case with many other essential drugs.

For instance, Phenobarbitone tablet, an inexpensive drug for the treatment of epilepsy, has been in virtual short supply over the years due primarily to what the market sources claim is the manufacturers viewing of it as "an unprofitable product." The wholesale price of this essential drug, marketed by a national company Specific, is fixed at Rs 25 per 100 tablets. However, the drug is in short supply over the years and is only available in the black market for as high as Rs 40.

Migril tablet, another essential drug used in the treatment of migraine, is also not easily available and so is the case with Ventolin respiratory solution both marketed by multinational Glaxo Welcome. Ventolin is used to treat respiratory disorders and is in great demand presently because of cold weather sells for Rs 24 but is available in the market anywhere between Rs 40-45. Throxin, another drug marketed by the same multinational, is used in the treatment of thyroid and sells for Rs 6.50 per 100 tablets. However, it is available for as much as Rs 12 per 100 tablets as it is in short supply.

Deltacortil tablet, marketed by multinational Pfizer, is another essential drug used for the treatment of respiratory ailments. The fixed wholesale price of a 1000-tablet bottle of this medicine is Rs 377 while its fixed retail price is Rs 444. However, it is available in the market anywhere between Rs 850-900 because of acute short supply.

Penadol syrup, another antibiotic is also in great demand during this time of the year when the incidents of fever and common cold witness a sharp increase due to change in climatic conditions. This widely used drug is also in short supply and none of its two versions regular and Extra, are available. The wholesale price of Penadol Extra syrup is fixed at Rs 88 and retails for Rs 103 but is available in the market for as much as Rs 120. The wholesale price of the regular version is fixed at Rs 112 and retails for Rs 132 but is wholesaling for as much as Rs 120.

Cardiolite, marketed by local Yungshin company, is used in the treatment of heart-related ailments. The 100-tablet blister packings of none of its three versions- 25mg, 50mg and 100mg is just not available in the market.

These are just of the few specific examples that highlight the acute shortage of drugs severely undermining the public health and sucking them financially dry by the unscrupulous elements at every level of the trade. In fact, the situation is much more serious because many more drugs are in short supply including those that are in virtual short supply over the years as well as those whose supply reels from periodical inconsistencies.

The worst sufferers of this rampant unscrupulous practices are the poor and the marginalised who are finding it harder and harder to absorb the cost of medication the availability and the prices controlling of whom is dictated by the suppliers, wholesalers and retailers in league or otherwise.Is anyone in the health department listening?