“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Where is the State drug policy?

Spurious Medicines Risk Lives

Ishfaq Ahmad Shah (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: Despite the draft of the drug policy being ready for almost a year now, it is yet to be placed before the cabinet for review and approval, thanks largely to the lack of consensus between the Health and the Medical Education department over some provisions of the policy.

Meanwhile, in the absence of a drug policy, there is no check on the sale of spurious drugs in the state. The unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies in connivance with some doctors continue to risk the lives of people.

Reviewing the draft drug policy in November last year, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah had called for the policy to be urgently placed before the cabinet for review and approval. Eight months have passed since then, but the policy seems to be held hostage to the wrangling between the Health and Medical Education department.

According to sources, even as the basic model of the drug policy is ready, the delay in putting it before the cabinet for approval has been due to some reservations of Health and Medical Education department.

“While as the state health department had proposed setting up of Directorate of Procurement, the health and medical education department demands that there should be an independent corporation that will look into the purchase and distribution of drugs,” sources said.

They further said the opposition to setting up of Directorate of Procurement seems to be influenced by the suppliers who don’t want a single systematic set up to regularize distribution and purchase of drugs in the state thereby giving the unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies a free hand to supply sub-standard drugs in the state.

“I am not against framing a drug policy for the state. My only reservation is with the Directorate of Procurement which, as per the draft policy, is supposed to function under the health department,” said Health and Medical Education Minister, R S Chib.

“I want that an independent body or a corporation should be formed instead, which should be kept away from any political interference. Rest I have no issues with the implementation of the policy,” he said.

Responding to Chib’s reservations, Minister for Health, Sham Lal Sharma said, “We have seen so many corporations here and we have also seen their fate. I will do away with Directorate of Procurement, but will work for speedy implementation of the drug policy.”

Speaking in favour of the directorate, Sharma said, “We cannot delay the policy for this single requirement (Directorate of Procurement). However, the directorate would have not only regularized the purchase and supply of drugs, but would have benefitted the state exchequer as well.”

According to sources in the state drug control department, absence of a drug policy has led to mushroom growth of pharmaceutical companies in J&K selling sub-standard drugs.

“Almost 1500 pharmaceutical manufacturing companies from different states of India are operating in the state and most of them sell sub-standard drugs. The absence of drug policy helps them to grow unabatedly,” they said.

Pertinently, according to the official figures, Jammu and Kashmir consumes medicines worth Rs 600 crore every year out of which medicines worth Rs 400 crore are taken in Kashmir valley alone. Besides, about 3000 wholesalers and 5000 medicine retailers operate in the valley. The annual government budget for the purchase of drugs is almost Rs 72 crores.

Among other things, the draft drug policy provides for procurement and supply of essential medicines as per the World Health Organization norms taking into account the health needs of people.

It also aims to provide for an essential drug list, quality assurance, prompt accessibility and availability of drugs at affordable prices, safety and efficiency of medicines, selection of essential medicines, procurement of generic drugs, setting up of Jan Asudhi Drug stores, management of materials and inventory control, sales and storage, quality assurance and regularization, monitoring and promoting rational use of drugs, creation of drug information centers, monitoring of pharma companies and hospital drug stores.

A senior official of the health department, wishing anonymity, said the nexus between the drug suppliers and doctors is a big hurdle in the implementation of the policy in the state.

“The policy favours prescription of drugs on salt names and not on the names of the companies. With a proper drug policy in place, the doctors cannot prescribe drugs of a particular pharmaceutical company which in turn will lessen their chances of receiving favours from the pharma companies,” the official said.

He said the drug policy will check influx of sub-standard drugs into the state and will also regulate functioning of pharmaceutical companies.

“There are only 350 essential drugs that are approved and included in the policy. All other drugs that are present in the market today will be automatically rejected and this is what the suppliers don’t want and they are influencing the approval of this policy,” he added.

Meanwhile, the health minister assured that the policy would be approved soon “despite the hurdles created by certain quarters of vested interests”.

“Suppliers cannot dictate terms to us. For the benefit of people and for the benefit of the overall health care system of the state, the policy will be approved within a month,” Sharma asserted.

Pertinently, the announcement to frame a drug policy for the state was made by the health minister soon after the formation of National Conference-Congress coalition government in J&K in 2009.

According to sources, the work on framing of the policy was started soon after the announcement and experts from World Health Organization, medical fraternity at national level and all the concerned departments from the state including people from Drug Control Department, Health Department and senior officials from both the medical colleges of the state were engaged for the task.

“Almost three years have passed, but nothing has happened,” they complained.