The interim government announced on Wednesday a price adjustment affecting 146 essential drugs, aligning with the decision made by the federal cabinet on February 1, 2024.

The Ministry of National Health Services and Regulations issued a notification invoking its authority under Section 36 of the Drug Act 1976, stating that all drugs and biological substances not included in the National Essential Medicines List are exempt from Section 12 of the act in the public interest.

This decision stems from a federal cabinet meeting chaired by interim Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar on February 1, 2024. The move, categorised under hardship, was endorsed based on the recommendation of the National Health Services Ministry. The ministry highlighted the escalating costs of raw materials for drug manufacturing in the global market.

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Officials from the National Health Services Ministry and the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) informed the cabinet that citizens could report medicine unavailability through the pharmaceutical industry regulator’s online portal.

Primarily targeting vital medications like those for cancer treatment, vaccines, and antibiotics, the decision, communicated through a drug price hike notification, was based on a proposal from the Drug Regulatory Authority, suggesting price increases for 262 medicines. However, the government opted to implement adjustments for 146 medicines crucial to saving lives.

According to Brecorder, among the medicines listed for price increments, pharmaceutical companies are tasked with adjusting the prices of 116 medications.

Significantly, the government will now oversee the prices of 464 medicines included in the National Essential Medicines List, ensuring the accessibility of critical medications to the public.

The government’s decision to deregulate drug prices grants pharmaceutical companies autonomy to adjust prices independently, marking a significant shift in pharmaceutical pricing governance that may reshape the healthcare industry’s landscape.

As stakeholders assess the implications, concerns regarding affordability and access to life-saving medications emerge. While the government seeks to balance the viability of pharmaceutical companies with public health interests, the consequences of these adjustments warrant scrutiny and debate.

However, following the cabinet’s approval of the price increase, a shortage of essential drugs was observed in both the wholesale and retail markets. Drug distributors and retailers attribute this to manufacturers awaiting formal notification from the Health Ministry regarding the price increase before releasing supplies to the market.

This practice has resulted in significant patient suffering, as Mohammad Samiullah Awan, a drug retailer, highlights. While the notification’s issuance may ensure medicine availability, it further burdens already financially strained consumers grappling with price hikes.