As the prices of medicines, especially of life-saving drugs, are shooting up across the State making medical treatment extremely expensive, the Health Department is convening a meeting of senior officials and experts to find ways to bring down the prices.

The meeting, called by Health Minister P.K. Sreemathy, will be held at Thiruvananthapuram on September 16. Heads of a host of government agencies concerned with health care, drugs and public distribution as well as specialist doctors have been invited to offer their advice.

“It will be a brainstorming session aimed to devise ways to bring down drug prices rapidly,” Usha Titus, Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, told The Hindu. “We will try to make life-saving drugs available to patients as well as to the government hospitals much below the MRP [maximum retail price],” she said.

Specialists invited

Specialist doctors from three important speciality areas—cardio, renal and cancer—have been invited to recommend a standard, cost-effective treatment regimen for heart, kidney and cancer patients. The prices of drugs for these three diseases have risen alarmingly in the past couple of years.

Director of the Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvananthapuram; senior faculty members and heads of medical colleges; and the Health Department’s own top officials will participate in the meeting. Heads of Maveli and Neethi Stores, who will be there at the meeting, will be asked to see if more drugs could be supplied through their outlets at reduced prices. The Drugs Controller will be asked to hold meetings with drug manufacturers and ask them to cut down their prices.

Big price jumps

The prices of life-saving drugs have increased several times over in the past few months as the manufacturers jacked up their prices. Prices of some cancer drugs have reached the five-digit price level, thus making cancer treatment one of the most expensive, health care professionals say. Newer and expen sive drugs for diabetes are being pumped into Kerala, which has one of the largest diabetic populations in India. Simple drugs for high blood pressure and high cholesterol have registered big price jumps in the past one year.

High-pressure marketing by drug manufacturers who employ means fair and foul to push their products is said to be a major reason for the price hike. Drug-making became a high-profit industry in the country in the wake of the opening up of the economy following the 1991 liberalisation process.

NGO activists in the health advocacy areas point to an unholy nexus among drug-makers, hospitals, and a section of doctors that aims to make big bucks out of patients’ woes. They allege that a number of doctors get cutbacks, sometimes as high has 30 per cent of the price of drugs, and medical aids.

Some of the professional bodies in the health care sector are also alleged to be conniving with the drug-makers by promoting their products.

Need for vigil

Senior government authorities say that since the health care sector is a highly complicated area with myriad interest groups entwined, the government is helpless in checking the vices in the sector, including the unscrupulous jacking up of drug prices.

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