It’s not just epilepsy that Muhammad Naeem, a 15-year old disabled boy, has to fight with, the unavailability of his medicine due to current price crisis has multiplied his ordeal.

He has to find someone to push his wheelchair first and then goes to medicine market to search the epilepsy medicine, but to no avail. “Every day I go out with someone pushing my wheelchair to find Phenobarbiton tablets and come back empty handed in the evening. My life is in jeopardy. The government should ensure availability of my medicine,” he demanded while talking to The Nation.

A number of life-saving drugs have disappeared from the market for the last few weeks and the medicine distributors claim that the multinational pharmaceutical companies stopped their production to exert pressure on the government to increase their prices.

Talking to this scribe, President of Pakistan Chemist and Druggists Association Muhammad Akhtar Butt confirmed the unavailability of medicines. “The multi-national pharmaceutical companies have increased the prices of medicines horribly as a result of which the distributors stopped the supply, causing a severe shortage of life-saving drugs,” he added. He pointed out that many medicines including Frisium tablets, Mathergin tablets, Syntocinon injection, Neomercazol tablets, Thyroxin tablets, Xanaz tablets, Decadron injection, Lenoxin tablets, Deltacortil EC tablets, Polyfax eye ointment, Betnisol drops, Motival tablets, Phenobarbiton tablets, Ephedrin tablets, Klariced injection, Augmentin injection and Chloral Hydrate syrup are currently off the market. Similarly, the multinational pharmaceutical companies have resumed the supply of dozens of other medicines on highly inflated new rates, he added.

“Besides creating fake shortage, the pharmaceutical companies have increased the prices of missing medicines between five and 400 percent. People are dying without medicines. It’s just condemnable. The government should take action against them,” Mr Butt demanded.

Multan Executive District Officer (EDO) Health Dr Iftikhar Qureshi, was of the opinion that the government could do nothing until the stay granted by the Sindh High Court is vacated. “We cannot do anything on the issue of prices. The law department should go to the court and get this stay vacated first. Then we’ll be able to bring the prices back to the old level,” he added. He said that once the prices are reversed, the government departments concerned would come into a position to sit with the companies and decide that how much price increase should be permitted. He said that the companies themselves increased rates and then moved court against government, claiming that it attempted to harass them. “They got stay on the increased prices and created fake shortage of the remaining medicines with old prices,” he pointed out.

A member of Multan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) and owner of a local pharmaceutical company, Zafar Iqbal Baloch, however, supported increase in medicine prices, saying otherwise many multinational companies would have quit business in Pakistan. “They (multinational pharma companies) are already selling a number of their products cost-to-cost and at least five companies have left Pakistan. They were demanding increase for the last six seven years but no one listened to them,” he claimed. He disclosed that the companies told the court that despite their repeated requests the Ministry concerned did not given even a single response. “Now they (the government) are reluctant to go to the court because they fear that they will not be able to answer court’s questions as to why did not they answer the requests of companies despite lapse of one year while they were bound to respond in three months,” he claimed. He pointed out that the production cost of multinational companies was much higher than the local companies as they spent a lot on research and standards. He claimed that some government officials from the health ministry shown this path to the pharmaceutical companies.