Islamabad - The Drug Regulatory Authority Pakistan’s newly introduced computerized barcode system to regulate drug prices has been challenged in the Islamabad High Court

Petitioner Chaudhary Muhammad Usman has contended that the cost to be incurred by the new system will increase the burden on consumers. The petitioner has prayed the court to strike down the SRO issued by Ministry of National Health Services Regulations & Coordination (NHSR&C) on registration of medicines with barcode. The petitioner has also stated that the payment of charges to the company fixing barcode was unlawful.

The petitioner, who is also a drug manufacturer, pleaded before the court that drugs were being manufactured, packaged and labelled by printing the date of manufacturing, expiry, and the batch number of medicine, its retail price and generic name on the packing material.

The petitioner said the processes were easily understandable with all relevant details for customer and manufacturers. 

On the contrary, the barcode system which provides details of drug’s formula, its brand and generic name is unsafe as it could be hacked for being computerized which may facilitate manufacturer of spurious drugs.  Ministry on NHSR&C on June 14 issued a notification amending the drug rule of 1986 to introduce the affixing and printing of barcode on every blisters, vials, ampoules, packing and carton containing drugs.

The petitioner pleaded before the court that “contrary to the practice prevalent in foreign countries, the manufacturers according to the new procedure, are enjoined to transmit all the contents to be displayed in the barcode to a company known by the name of GSI Pakistan. GSI has been given exclusive rights to printing the barcode on the manufactured drugs”.  The petitioner questioned the transparency of awarding the affixing of barcodes on GSI. He accused, in the petition that the contact was given to this particular company for business interests and in violation of free-market competition.  

“Needless to say, the directives contained in the Rule are in violation of free and competitive market rules and process for selecting a company for rendering such services,” said the petitioner.  The petitioner argued that the drug manufacturer is required to pay charges for printing the barcode on the packing of medicines to benefit GSI Pakistan at its own discretion.

The charges paid to GSI Pakistan would result in increase of the price of the drug and will be a burden on the patients’ pockets. No instructions or rules have been made or published prescribing the rate at which GSI Pakistan is entitled to charge from the manufacturing companies, the petitioner pleaded.

As per the petition, there is no compulsion of printing barcode in the international market and it is left solely to the discretion of manufacturer whether to adopt the methodology or not.

The petitioner alleged that leaving the charges for barcode printing to the discretion of GSI Pakistan is indicative of earning kickbacks from the company by the officials of the NHSR&C and DRAP.

The petitioner held the argument that under the normal competitive procedure to be assigned to any firm or company, tenders of rates are called for and the lowest bidder is granted the work.

“Unfortunately, this ethical business practice has been ignored and the monopolistic right of affixing the barcode has been granted to M/s GS1 Pakistan as a pure act of favouritism,” he alleged.

Spokesperson DRAP, Sajid Hussain Shah, talking to The Nation said that the barcode system will increase the burden on the consumer but will ensure the transparency in legal and spurious drugs.

He said the company awarded the contract to affix the barcode is well reputed and has implemented the system in more than 100 countries already.

He added that the retailer only has to install the application in his system which will ensure the transparency in the fixed prices of the medicine also.

 “Only a few segments with vested interests are opposing the barcode system as the implementation of the system will close the doors of corruption,” he added.