Much to the relief of those who use sandostatin LAR, which is used to arrest a sudden increase in the growth hormone, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has directed Novartis India Limited, the manufacturers, to make the drug available to all patients at the discounted rate irrespective of whether they have enrolled in a special star programme of the company or not.

The commission headed by its judicial member K.Chadradas Nadar issued the directive while dismissing a petition filed by Novartis against the Ernakulam Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum directive to refund the excess amount collected from a consumer.

The commission noted that there was absolutely no criterion fixed for enrolment of patients in the star programme. It was a mere formality to send the enrolment form. The inconsistency and variance in the price was not justified and amounted to an unfair trade practice. Under the star scheme, 21 ampoules of sandostatin 0.1mg were given free to those who join the scheme. A discount of 30% was allowed on the first vial of sandostatin that the consumer bought, while 40% discount was allowed for the second vial and 50% for the subsequent purchases till the sixth vial. According to the company, the discount option was available only to patients who submitted the completed star enrolment form. The commission observed that the scheme was formulated without any rationale. The discount allowed shows that even at the discounted rate, the company was making a profit. The discount scheme was only a ploy to promote the sale of the medicine. This practice without any reason amounts to an unfair trade practice and there was no error in the conclusion of the district forum.

The district forum had ordered refund of the excess amount on a petition filed by J.Anto of Kollam. According to him, his son Tomes Anto (17) underwent a surgery for brain tumour and he was subjected to radiotherapy from July 14, 2003 to August 26, 2003. Subsequently, the boy started growing taller rapidly due to excess production of the growth hormone. A doctor suggested the use of sandostatin LAR to arrest the growth.

Accordingly, the boy took the shots of the drug on a monthly basis at a cost of Rs.58,000 per vial. The treatment was started on April 30, 2008. The doctor directed the patient to continue the medicine though there was no positive response. Since even the continued administration of the medicine was ineffective, its use was stopped in December 2008. By that time, eight injections were taken, spending Rs.3,60,008 but the growth of the complainant’s son continued. The petitioner contended that had the company given discount on the price of the medicine at the outset, the complainant could have saved Rs.1,17,872. The complainant, therefore, sought refund of the excess amount.

When contacted, the counsel for Novartis said that an appeal would be filed against the State Commission’s directive in the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

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