Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Malaria drugs, antivenom short as govt rushes relief to J&K

Relief operations in the flood-affected areas of Jammu & Kashmir could be hurt by a nationwide shortage of essential medicines, including malaria drugs and antivenom. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has asked drug companies to immediately bridge the gap and submit compliance reports within 96 hours.

Malaria drugs and antivenom are vital during the monsoon, especially in coastal regions. Scarcity of rabies vaccine, rabies immunoglobulin and albumin injections has also been reported to the NPPA, which keeps tabs on the availability of medicines in the country. Albumin injections are used after surgery. “Many states have reported shortage of these medicines during the past few months. We have also checked through our network and found scarcity,” an official told Business Standard. “There could be two reasons for the shortage. One, demand has gone up and, second, supply has reduced. The second reason is more likely,” he added.

A few health experts alleged the shortage was created by companies because most of these medicines were under price control and the government did not have a state-owned manufacturing facility to fill the gap.
On Friday, the Centre took charge of relief operations in Jammu & Kashmir, with the health ministry sending a team of doctors and experts along with medicines to the state. The ministry said it was procuring more medicines for relief.

Ranbaxy, Torrent Pharma, GlaxoSmithKline, Lupin and Serum Institute manufacture many of the popular brands of the malaria drug, the rabies vaccine and snake antivenom.

According to the Drug Price Control Order, 2013, companies making essential medicines are required to inform the at least six months before they plan to discontinue production of any such drug. The government can also direct a company to continue production for up to a year.

The official added the government and the regulatory agencies were working to resolve the problem and ensure supplies continued. “There can be various reasons for short supply. There can be inadequate supply of raw material. Viability could also be an issue. But stopping production is not a solution. The companies should bring it to our notice and the government will take steps to ensure continuation of supplies,” he said. The regulator has asked drug companies to submit production data. If they did not comply, they could face action under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, the official said.


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