As customs duty exemption goes, 76 life-saving drugs to get costlier

In a move that could inflate the cost of essential life-saving imported drugs, the Finance Ministry has withdrawn exemption of 76 medicines from customs duties. The list includes 10 HIV drugs and at least four cancer drugs, but haemophilia patients are likely to be the most affected by the decision.

Haemophilia is a genetic disorder in which the patient tends to bleed excessively. Anti-haemophilic factor concentrates (VIII & IX) that are given to patients to control the bleeding are off the list.

These concentrates are proteins that help the blood clot. Indian patients depend on American pharmaceutical company Baxter International for the proteins. “The two drugs — one is blood-based and it is a bad product from an Indian company. The other Indian alternative is a company that makes only IX but does not make factor VIII. We will die. We need between 1,500-1,700 units a year and we already spend over Rs. 30,000 out of pocket. Withdrawal of exemption from import duty means the per-unit cost will go up by Rs. 3-Rs. 4,” said Rupal Panchal, founder of the Mumbai-based Haemophilia Society. Meanwhile, the withdrawal of exemption for anti-cancer and anti-retroviral (HIV/AIDS) medicines will not affect patients or drug prices as generic versions of these drugs are made in India.

Generic versions

“Putting old HIV or cancer medicines out of the list makes no difference as the generic versions are available in India at cheaper rates. This is a move to boost domestic competition among Indian drug-makers. The pressure will be on patients who do not have an alternative source. They already pay out of pocket and piling duty on them seems a move that has not been well-thought out,” said Leena Menghaney, a lawyer and activist working for access to affordable drugs.

The Finance Ministry had issued the notification on January 28.

But the matter came to light when Biocon Chairperson and Managing Director Kiran Mazumdar Shaw tweeted: “Govt. has introduced 22% import tax on cancer and life saving drugs. Previously exempted. Is this the phasing out of exemptions by MoF? Sad.”

When contacted, Ms. Mazumdar-Shaw said: “The Department of Revenue has issued a notification on January 28, withdrawing exemption from import duty on a number of drugs, including cancer and other lifesaving drugs. This will result in excise/import duties to the extent of over 22 per cent, which will make these drugs more expensive… There are over 75 drugs on this list. This will also impact the indigenous drugs being manufactured in SEZs, thus adversely impacting the government’s aim of making healthcare affordable and accessible to patients in India.”

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 3:56:33 PM |

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