ISLAMABAD - Life-saving drugs have become out of reach of the poor and deserving, while doctors, officials and multinational companies (MNCs) are killing masses for profit, alleged protestors during a protest in front of National Press Club on Friday.

A demonstration was held against collusion among doctors, officials of pharma companies and drug makers by social workers, human rights activists and patients of Hepatitis wherein they condemned frequent artificial drugs price hike that is benefiting the corrupt and hurting the needy. They asked the government to take serious measures to curb the spread of Hepatitis in country. They also demanded concrete steps to reduce prices of the medicines, especially life-saving drugs which are no more affordable for the common man. Workers of different social sector organisations, human rights activists and patients of Hepatitis B and C raised these demands during the demonstration against expected artificial upward price revision of some costly drugs and elements gaining from skyrocketing prices. Over 10 per cent population is suffering from Hepatitis just because of the reuse of disposable syringes, unscreened blood transfusion and contaminated equipment in medical facilities, they said.

They alleged that some multinational companies (MNCs) are exploiting the situation by selling drugs on exorbitant prices while barring entry of affordable medicine in the market. MNCs are also delaying local research aimed at finding cheap local alternatives, they added. The protestors said that cost of the most widely prescribed Hepatitis medicine is not more than Rs 3000. However single dose of the pre-filled syringe is being sold at Rs 13,000. The health practitioner who prescribes the medicine gets Rs 6500 as commission while rest of the money is distributed among importers, health officials, distributors and retailers, they informed. Rejecting the underhand payments, shady deals and artificial price hikes, they said that the pharmaceuticals would give benefit to all the stakeholders except the poor patients suffering from life-threatening diseases. This is an organised crime against poor patients who cannot afford 2 to 4 doses per month for years while there is no system in place to challenge the prices of medicines fixed by Ministry of Health. The situation proves that medical profession is lost to greed, while state has failed to provide affordable healthcare facilities to masses and save them from exploitation. The registration of a drug takes some two years in the UK and USA while the local authorities have been registering eight drugs per day since years. Why the same branded medicines are very cheap in all the neighbouring countries that include aspirin, Amoxillin, Ampicillin, Co-trimaxazole, Laxotanil, Ciprofloxine, Renitidin, Famotidine and Cemetidine, they questioned.

They demanded that import of cheap and quality medicine from India should be immediately allowed to save masses from the clutches of health mafia. The government can import everything from India - sugar, cotton, fruit, vegetables, pulses and machinery - but it would not dare import medicine under pressure of the influential pharma mafia, they said.

Only a few God-fearing doctors would tell patients to seek out Indian medicines which are around 8-10 times cheaper than those manufactured locally by the same MNCs.

Islamabad can follow the suit of Indian where firms producing generic drugs at a fraction of the cost of branded medicines, which forces MNCs to lower prices. The protestors asked the Chief Justice Pakistan to stop ruthless manipulation of the dispossessed and ensure that benefits of modern medicine reach poor on proper cost. The companies spending billions as bribes and benefiting from regulatory gaps, loopholes and dishonest officials needs to be checked, they demanded.