ISLAMABAD - The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination on Thursday notified a 15 per cent hike in drug prices, but kept costs of lifesaving drugs unchanged. Prices of any medicine, subject to a court order, would also not fall under this category.

The pharmaceutical sector has been given an overall price-hike of 1.25 per cent, excluding nearly 15 per cent medicines, since 2001. According to a federal secretary, the hike has been given on a limited number of medicines and it would not affect prices of 22 lifesaving drugs – medications for hepatitis, ulcer, cancer, blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, kidney and heart related ailments, and antibiotics.

Imtiaz Inayat Elahi added the pharmaceutical sector had been demanding a 97 per cent increase, since it was struggling to absorb a 100 per cent surge in production costs.

Health experts however termed the move extremely unfair, saying it would lift drug prices up by 15 per cent in a one go.

Even a marginal cost raise could give a pharmaceutical company huge profits, commented an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, voicing concerns over the intentions behind the 15 per cent hike in drug prices.

Other officials this scribe talked to said in the past, only selective cases were considered for a jack-up of prices, but this time a 15 per cent hike had been allowed on every medicine, but lifesaving drugs.

Officials said a price-hike might be justifiable in the case of multinational companies as they imported raw material from the United States and European countries, but for local pharmaceutical companies that brought raw material from neighbouring countries, such as China and India, it would be some extra benefit.

Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association and Pharma Bureau meanwhile termed the price-hike insufficient.

PPMA chief Nasir Chaudhry said the ministry had estimated the cost of production at a 94 per cent hike, and Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan’s policy board had agreed on an 18 per cent hike afterward, but the official notification notified just a 15 per cent increase.

“We were demanding much more. It is a meager increase as the impact of currency devaluation and inflation is around 95 per cent. It will not take the industry anywhere. We will return to the ministry for a more justifiable raise in drug prices,” said Chaudhry.

He also urged the government to come up with more clear policies, especially when it came to the pricing mechanism, so that investors could plan about future investments and should not go to the government for more price hikes.

The 15 per cent increase is nothing in the face of over 100 per cent hike in fuel, electricity, gas, transportation and communication charges.