The number of complaints that are filed with the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) about unavailability or shortage of drugs have seen a six fold increase in 2017-18, as compared to 2016-17.
According to the data of pricing regulator, the number of complaints filed regarding shortage of medicines were just 7 in 2016-17. This figure saw a jump to 42 in 2017-18. These complaints were filed through the regulator’s online system “Pharma Jan Samadhan”, which was launched in March 2015.
The total number of complaints filed in “Pharma Jan Samadhan” were 13 in 2016-17, which increased to 58 in 2017-18. “42 out of these 58 complaints were related to unavailability or shortage of drugs. In some cases, it was found that the supply of raw materital from foreign countries has slowed down, which hampered the drug production here in India. In 3-4 cases, the companies were found to be pushing substitute brands instead of the brand that is known to the people,” said a senior government official, who is privy to substance of complaints.
The official, however, did not clarify what action was taken by the pricing regulator against errant companies. The raw material required to make drugs is known as Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and is largely imported in India, predominantly from China. Currently, most of the drugs sold in India are branded generic drugs. When Paracetamol molecule is sold under the brand name ‘Calpol’ or ‘Sumo’, it is called a branded generic drug.
‘Pharma Jan Samadhan’ provides consumers and other stakeholders with an online facility to redress their complaints relating to the following four categories: over-pricing of medicines, non-availability or shortage of medicines, sale of new medicines without prior price approval of NPPA, and refusal of supply for sale of any medicine without good and sufficient reason. NPPA initiates action on any complaint within 48 hrs of its receipt.
The complaints regarding over pricing of medicines increased from three in 2016-17 to 10 in 2017-18. While two complaints were filed in 2016-17 under the category “sale of new medicines without prior price approval of NPPA”, no complaint was filed in this category in 2017-18.
In India, the government follows a market-based pricing model. Under this, a simple average of price-to-retailers (PTR), the price at which the retailer purchases the medicine, is done by considering all branded and unbranded versions of scheduled drug that have a market share of more than one per cent. A notional retailer margin of 16 per cent is added to this average to determine the ‘ceiling price’.
“The ‘Pharma Jan Samadhan’ scheme has put in place a speedy and effective complaint redressal system with respect to availability and pricing of medicines. It would serve as a robust e-governance tool for protection of consumers’ interests through effective implementation of the Drugs (Price Control) Order 2013,” said the government statement when this system was launched on March 12, 2015.