The National Medicinal Regulatory Authority (NMRA) has called for a system to be in place to create a level-playing field to allow Western drug manufacturers to sell their pharmaceutical products in the country.

The call comes following the recent drug price regulation which raised fears that Western drug manufacturers would have to pull out of the country as their products would have to be sold for a cheaper price.

The government last month introduced a new price regulation on 47 essential drugs.

Reports of shortage
There were widespread reports of drug shortage in several pharmacies especially in the outskirts of Colombo and rural areas. There was also speculation that small-time pharmacies were reluctant to buy certain pharmaceutical products that were available only in the bigger pharmacies.

However, pharmacists speaking to the Weekend Nation pointed out that the situation was under control despite the shortage of a very few products.

N. A. Jayasinghe of Maradana Pharmacy told the Weekend Nation that there was a shortage of the drug piriton. “Drugs from other companies are available. There used to be a shortage of some other drugs sometime back, but it is alright now. Also, the price ceilings do not affect us since we are still getting the same percentage of profits and old stocks have been replaced by new, low -priced stocks,” he said.

According to him, when it comes to prescriptions, specialists use brand names to prescribe drugs while general practitioners only use generic names.

According to the pharmacist at Siri Medical Stores in Maradana, there is no drug shortage at the moment and all drugs are available. “There is a rumour that there is going to be a shortage but so far that has not happened,” she commented.

Also, there is no loss due to the price ceilings as all the previous stocks with higher prices have been replaced with new lower- priced stocks complimenting the new price.

The implementation of the new price regulation triggered both positive and negative responses. While the public at large welcomed the move, some of the experts in the field claimed that it would discourage some of the major players.

An official in the Ministry of Health admitted that the price reduction would discourage some of the Western drug manufacturers whose products are sold at a much higher price than the same type of drugs produced in countries like India and Bangladesh.

The official pointed out that the withdrawal of such companies would give rise to lower quality drugs to be brought into Sri Lanka.

However, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NMRA, Dr. Kamal Jayasinghe speaking to the Weekend Nation said that Sri Lanka needed to focus on restructuring the system in order to accommodate all stakeholders and provide them with a level-playing field.

He pointed out the need for a fresh approach to encourage all players without sidelining them in anyway.

Contract manufacturing
Accordingly, most of these drug manufacturing giants in Western countries adopt a concept called contract manufacturing where the said drugs are manufactured in other countries according to the standards and specifications of the respective drug company.
“They are manufactured under their supervision,” Dr Jayasinghe said. “For example, some of these drug companies manufacture drugs in India through contract manufacturing. The standards are the same. However, the prices are less”.

Dr, Jayasinghe, however, suggested that such a system was needed in Sri Lanka if the public was to have access to quality medicine for cheaper prices.

More drugs to be included
The Ministry of Health also said that more drugs would be regulated in the future. However, the Society of Government Pharmacists (CGP) urged the government to formulate a separate pricing system for drugs related to illnesses such as cancer. “They need to have a separate formula for such drugs since there are not many brands and are expensive. Therefore, the median pricing method would not work for such drugs,” president of the Society, Ajith Tillekaratne said.

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