By: Tikender Panwar
A day after the Lok Sabha election results were announced, as we all sat a little perturbed over the performance of our party, a gentleman walked into our office. This person was neither our sympathizer nor do I remember him supporting our cause ever in the past. He came with a very peculiar kind of issue and a demand. I asked him why he did not take up this issue with other political parties as they were far stronger than us and could have even helped in serving the cause better. And above all we are not in a position as of now to influence the policy matters with the reduced strength in the Parliament. His answer was quite motivating for me at the time of defeat. Anyway, the issue pertained to bonus medicines being provided by various companies and the same not being transferred to the common consumers.
What are bonus medicines?
The prices of drugs have shot up substantially during the last decade, especially after the change in patent laws. This also includes certain life-saving drugs. Middlemen are earning large amount of dividends in the promotional packages being provided by the companies. Such dividends or discounts are being provided throughout the year and vary with season. These promotional or incentive packages or discounted medicines are ‘bonus medicines’. The companies that provide such discount include Cipla, Ranbaxy, Ostrageneticie, Alembic, Meyer, Rhonepoulenac, Parke Davis, Lupin, Aimil, Mankind and so on. These companies provide bonus medicines as an incentive varying from time period to season. For example during the rainy season drugs for diarrhea etc are provided in the bonus scheme. Similarly during the winter season drugs for cough and cold fall in this category. Such bonus drugs are provided both to the private druggists and to the civil supplies corporation. This bonus can reduce the prices of the drugs substantially and can benefit the common consumer. Of course, private chemists will not pass this benefit to the common consumers.
The role the government can play
The civil supply corporation retail outlets can definitely pass on this benefit to consumers. There are scores of retail outlets attached to various government hospitals, FRUs and other health centers throughout the state under the civil supplies department that caters to the needs of both the outdoor and indoor patients. Though the government is propagating that these stores provide twin benefits to patients as (a) they are open for 24 hours, and (b) the drugs are provided at a discounted price from 5to 30%. The government is, however, hoodwinking the people by hiding one basic point that pertains to the ‘bonus medicines’ being provided by various companies to the civil supplies corporation. As of today such benefits are being swindled by the civil supply corporation and not passed on to the common consumer.
Can this really affect the price of medicines?
Yes. I have with me the latest circular of Cipla company that has given a list of medicines that are being kept under this category. For example, a strip of Mtipil meant to terminate pregnancy costs Rs 370/- and a dose of three strips i.e. 3 tablets, are required for MTP. Now the same company is giving a bonus of 9 strips attached to 3, which means that initially the strip that cost Rs 370/- actually now costs Rs 92.50. I gave this example as I was told such medicines are the largest sold in the market these days. But the formula also applies on many life-saving drugs and a large number of syrups both for adults and children. But such a discount is not being passed to the consumers and instead is being swindled by the civil supplies corporation. Similarly, there are several other medicines that are provided as a bonus e.g. IPill from Cipla and Injection Advent where 10 units of bonus are provided with 6 units.
I think mobilizing public opinion and also getting information under the Right to Information Act, as I have been able to collect this, can definitely help the consumers in this era of privatization and commercialization of health services where even the government sector hospitals and centers are targets under the garb of resource mobilization, which actually is a step towards privatization of government health institutions.