Not a single representative of the Pharma Bureau, a conglomerate of 21 multinational pharmaceutical, research, and biotechnology companies operating in Pakistan, attended a scheduled meeting with health officials in Islamabad. The agenda focused on recent price hikes on a range of medicines.
Federal Health Minister Saira Afzal Tarar, the health secretary, and other ministry officials waited for over an hour with the hope of convincing representatives of the body to rollback prices. The no-show left the minister embarrassed, to say the least, and she gave them a piece of her mind in a press statement issued soon after.
“The government and the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) have no role in the recent price-hike. It is the second time that some multinational pharmaceuticals have unilaterally and unjustifiably increased prices by obtaining stay orders from the Sindh High Court through deceptive means,” Tarar said, according to the health ministry press release issued late on Friday.
The health ministry had invited representatives of the Pharma Bureau and the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PPMA) for a dialogue to settle the issue of recent increase in drug prices.
The only pharma industry invitee to show up was the PPMA chairman.
While speaking to the media after the meeting was called off, Tarar said that profiteering multinational pharmaceuticals would not be allowed to blackmail the government.
She also chided opposition parties for politicising the issue, saying, “Opposition members should stop supporting companies which unilaterally jacked up prices, only to create problems for the public. If you aspire towards welfare of the masses, support the government against the people making billions off the backs of the poor.”
She said that the health ministry will approach the Sindh High Court to get the stay vacated, adding that if the high court did not entertain their pleas, the government would approach the Supreme Court for the same.
Multinationals pharmaceutical companies have increased drug prices after claiming that it was not feasible for them to make money at the rate set by DRAP. “The multinationals have challenged the writ of the government by unilaterally increasing prices,” Tarar said.
The multinationals obtained individual stay orders, which would make the issue linger for longer. The Sindh High Court has set February 23, February 27, February 29 and various dates in March for hearings in the various cases.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2016.
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