NPP may finally come into being.

The long pending National Pharmaceutical Policy, 2006 (NPP) seems like it may finally see the light of day some time in September this year according to Sharad Pawar. Sharad Pawar, the head of the 7 ministers that formed the Group of Ministers (GoM) that was constituted to rethink the policy after it was announced earlier in 2007, announced that it was in its final stages and would be ready within 2-3 months.

The NPP was first proposed as far back as 2002 but ever since, has been shelved due to various reasons. Important parts of the policy are aimed at introduction of health insurance scheme for the poor families, Special Access Programme for anti-cancer, anti-HIV drugs in the form of public-private-partnership programme. Also, MRP to include all taxes as is the case for other packaged goods. Also to look at feasibility of revival of Pharma PSUs so as to ensure adequate availability of essential medicines at affordable prices. Aimed at ensuring the affordability of essential medicines among other things, the Policy has been the subject of a constant tussle between the various stakeholders involved. The main bone of contention has been the issue of which medicines should fall under price control and which should not.

Pharmaceutical companies are pushing for the price control rules to be relaxed, claiming that the reduced profits would affect the market negatively as it would lead to a decreased overall output of essential medicines. Rather than the prices of drugs, the pharmaceutical lobby claims that it was a failure in the delivery mechanism which has led to the failure in providing affordable drugs.

The other side of the debate is led by the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan. Accusing the industry of excessive lobbying and misleading even other ministers, Mr Paswan said that the Government would not be influenced by such propaganda. Mr Paswan is pushing for bringing 354 medicines under price control whereas the pharma industry is just not ready to accept such stringent control. They insist that this kind of a move is retrograde and anti-liberalisation.

However, it must be pointed out that some sort of price control is in fact required in India, especially considering the lack of any health insurance in the masses. Even in the developed countries’ ‘free market’ economies there are price control measures. And the pharmaceutical companies are relying on market forces to decide prices. The problem with this is that medicines commodities which the end consumer does not decide what to buy. It’s a need based commodity – the patient needs a medicine prescribed and buys that medicine.

Another problem is that medicines are required to alleviate suffering caused in patients and hence drugs are more than just a consumer commodity. In almost all developed (market-economy) countries except USA, all issues relating to drugs, including prices, are subject to regulation by the government.

Instead of a price control mechanism, the pharmaceutical industry is asking for the formation of a monitoring system which would only examine drastic and unreasonable price hikes.
Recently, the policy has been forwarded to the law ministry to ensure that it is in complete compliance with the Supreme Court directive of 2003 which specifically mentioned the words ‘price’ and ‘control’. As of last check, it hasn’t been returned by the law ministry yet.

This declaration by Sharad Pawar has indeed come as a welcome relief as it has come at a time when many thought that the formation of the GoM was merely yet another delay tactic by the government. Now it only remains to be seen what is turned out when it does come out later this year.

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