The Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) has termed the recent initiative of the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) to increase the prices of various life-saving medicines as ‘totally unacceptable and illegal’.
“At a time when the prices of almost all daily essentials are on the rise in the country, the drug administration’s initiative to increase the price of various life-saving medicines is totally unacceptable and illegal,” said CAB President Golam Rahman at a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
Terming the DGDA initiative unreasonable and unfair, he said, “The prices of various types of drug have increased by 13% to 75% in the last six months with paracetamol syrup price increasing the most.”
Speaking at the press briefing, “Protest against unreasonable and unethical increase in the price of medicine”, he said, “In addition to the prices of various antibiotics, the prices of medicine for various diseases including gastric, high blood pressure and diabetes increased by 13 to 33 per cent.”
At the press conference, CAB raised a 4-point demand that includes reducing the markup on the import of medicines and raw materials; keeping the prices of all medicines under the government’s control, and making saline manufacturing and marketing through government institutions.
Golam Rahman said, “We feel that the government should reduce drug markup to keep drug prices under control. It cannot be denied that there is a lot of mismanagement in the health sector. There is a lack of transparency in the overall medicine manufacturing and pricing process in the country. Drug manufacturers raise the prices of all medicines at their own will whenever they want without any accountability, except the 117 drugs that are under the control of the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA).”
Despite the objections of organisations working for the protection of consumer rights, taking the initiative to increase the price of almost all medicines recently is not only unfair but also illegal, the CAB president added.
CAB said despite the healthy growth of the country’s pharmaceutical industry, the sector is still hugely influenced and controlled by multinational companies.
At the briefing, the CAB leaders said in the name of establishing control over the pharmaceutical industry, through the issuance of a circular in 1994, the government brought the pricing process of 117 generic drugs under the control of the DGDA, but the pricing of all other medicines was left at the hands of the manufacturing companies, despite the protests of different strata of the society.
However, the government did not pay heed to the protests and the 1994 order is still in place. Through that order, the control of the entire pharmaceutical industry basically went into the hands of the companies, claimed the CAB leaders.
Despite the expansion of the pharmaceutical industry in the country, 97 per cent of the raw materials needed for the production of medicine are still imported from abroad. Most of it comes from India and China and some of the raw materials are imported from developed countries.
However, as a low-income country (LDC), Bangladesh at present is getting tariff concessions on the import of pharmaceutical raw materials. After the LDC graduation scheduled in 2026, it is doubtful whether the country would be allowed to enjoy the facility.
The CAB leaders said the price of gastric drugs increased by 20-40 per cent, and the price of a 20 mg Amrapipazal tablet increased from Tk 5 to Tk 6 at local pharmacies since last July. The price of 20 miligram Rebi Brazil increased from Tk 5 to Tk 7.
They said the price of antibiotic tablets increased by 20 per cent while the price of each 500 mg Siduric Zim tablet increased from Tk 50 to Tk 60. The price of each tablet of 250 milligram increased from Tk 30 to Tk 35 and prices of blood pressure and cardiac medicines increased by 13-25 per cent.
CAB said the price hike of drugs like IVFluid is in the process of being unilaterally increased at any time, which is against the rights and interests of the consumers.
The CAB leaders urged the DGDA to immediately review the decision on medicine price hiking by a committee consisting of representatives of all the stakeholders.
It also demanded to halt the process of increasing the price of IV fluid and other drugs until the review.
Terming the government’s 1994 circular a black law, they demanded to repeal the circular. “Because of that order, companies are enjoying the authority to increase the prices of medicines. Prices should be kept under the control of the government by reducing the markup on import of raw materials and other drugs,” the CAB leaders said.
They also said the markup on imported drugs should also be reduced. The government should establish control over the pricing process of medicines, if needed through subsidising. Saline should be manufactured and marketed through government agencies such as the Public Health Institute.