A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court for making pharmaceutical companies criminally liable for giving freebies to doctors. It has been alleged that these companies shower freebies on doctors to influence them to prescribe their overpriced drugs and medicines.
Under the garb of sales promotion, freebies or indirect advantages are offered to doctors as gifts, entertainment, hospitality, sponsored foreign trips etc in exchange for an increase in sales of medicines. A proper record is maintained by companies area wise.
It has been alleged that mindless prescription of costly medicines leads to lowering of inherent immunity and future complications. A prime example of this was seen when Remdesivir injections were prescribed for Covid patients during the pandemic even when its efficacy against coronavirus was not scientifically proved. The excessive use of steroids led to a surge in cases of mucormycosis (black fungus) in Covid patients. Such practices violate the general public’s right to health and life.
But here is a disclaimer. All doctors are not like that. Most of the doctors I have come across in my life do sincere efforts to save their patients or treat to the best of their knowledge and capabilities. We have seen them working throughout during the Covid time, endangering their own lives. Whatever medications were available then, they used them to cure patients.
Coming back to freebies, PIL alleges that these are nothing but bribes. Presently only doctors are criminally liable for receiving bribes in the form of freebies, while the Supreme Court has time and again ruled that both givers and takers of bribes are equally liable.
One study has revealed that the top seven pharma companies together had spent Rs 342 billion in marketing during the last eight years Rs 43 billion per annum (on an average) on sales promotion and advertising that constitutes more than 20% of the cost of drugs.
The plea is that it takes drugs further away from the reach of the common man. No doubt, access to healthcare is becoming increasingly difficult due to exorbitant prices. But the fact remains that for any product, the selling and marketing costs are inbuilt in its price. It can’t be wished away.
What can be done at the government level is to control prices. All drugs are not under pricing mechanism. It’s assumed that the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) cost contribution in a drug is 35% at the manufacturer level. MRP of a drug is therefore highly inflated.
But measures like imposition of a blanket trade margin etc is a difficult proposition looking to the complexities involved in the price fixation. Pharmaceutical companies consider drug’s uniqueness, competition and uniqueness, apart from R and D costs, input costs and trade margin while pricing their drugs.
But a midway is very much required to make medicines available to the general masses at affordable prices. The government has to take concrete steps despite the fact that pharma companies also give donations to the political parties.