Pakistan’s rupee experienced a very severe devaluation since 2017. Although many sources disagree on the exact number, some say that up to 35% of the rupee value was lost. This, linked to the rising cost of gas and electricity left most of the population in a very tight situation. These changes in return, influenced the medicine prices throughout Pakistan. Pakistan’s economy is not very strong and most of its citizens live under the poverty line, meaning that any change in medicine prices affects several million people severely.
On 10the January 2019, the government released an article in the extraordinary gazette of Pakistan announcing a sudden hike in medicine prices (9% to 15%). This on top of the annual increase of up to 70% for some products. This is the first time in 10 years something like this has happened. The main reason for this measure is the devaluation.
Although the hike in medicine prices is a relatively new event; doctors, chemists, top hospitals, pharma industry stakeholders and average individuals already experience some of the consequences.
Inflow Of Smuggled Medicines
The most dramatic effect of the elevated prices has been the sudden increase in purchase and consumption of smuggled medicines. They normally come from India or China. These smuggled drugs are being sold by pharmacists looking to increase their earnings since those drugs are usually very cheap (5 to 10 times more than the official ones). They can be sold at a much higher price while keeping them attractive for the average customer.
The main problem with these drugs is that they are that cheap for a very good reason. They usually are nothing more than placebos (in the best of cases), without any active component making them entirely useless for those with real health problems.
Most people don’t even notice when they purchase these counterfeit products. Their packaging is not too different from the real ones and since there are so many companies manufacturing and selling the same drugs, people don’t question when they see a new company name in the product’s box. Also, most of these fake products come without any literature about their components, which is a clear red flag.
Rural Areas and the Medicines
These immoral practices target mainly people from rural areas, where almost no regulatory authorities exist. Chronic and/or elderly patient are specially vulnerable; their nearly constant need for medication makes them look for the best prices.
Doctors from the Pakistani Medical Association already stated that the government should look for other options to deal with the increased cost of medicines. Their secretary Dr. Qaisar Sajjad suggested to reduce taxes on the import of basic materials for drug manufacturing. Dr. Sajjad also said that this measures are irresponsible.
Some stakeholders also consider the hike in prices a mistake, mainly because a very large part of their clients will no longer have access to some of their products (which is a practical and financial problem)
Since December 2018 and again in February 2019, Pakistani government have been announcing a new system that may help a lot of people dealing with the new prices. the “Sehat Insaf Card” (SIC).
The SIC is part of a national health insurance that aims to allow 80 million people to access free medical treatment. Over the next 2 years 15 million cards will be distributed, starting in Islamabad and then continuing to the rest of the country.
At the moment, the benefits of the SIC seem very good. It covers most medical treatments and procedures (except transplants), covers lost wages and travel expenses. However, for the purpose of this article, its most important feature is that it covers 540.000 Rs/year in treatments and medicines.
Some experts think that all these benefits may experience some changes with time, since at the moment, the government is not paying enough money to the insurance company to cover all the cost that would come from such an ambitious enterprise. For now, the SIC seems to be a good way to fight against the rising prices related to healthcare.