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Health Ministry slashes prices of hundreds of generic drugs.

Summary: Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil announced a major reduction in the price of hundreds of drugs, vowing to ensure that pharmaceutical manufacturing and importing companies comply with the measure by the start of next year.

BEIRUT: Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil announced a major reduction in the price of hundreds of drugs Tuesday, vowing to ensure that pharmaceutical manufacturing and importing companies comply with the measure by the start of next year.

"All companies must abide by the ministry's decision and the reduction in the prices should take place by the first of January 2012," said Khalil.

According to the minister, 670 generic drugs on the market are slated for a reduction to ensure that their prices are lower than the prices of corresponding brand names drugs.

"Prices of 484 generic drugs whose original brand name drugs are in the market will be reduced by more than 22 percent and a 15 percent reduction in prices will affect some 186 generic drugs that do not have their corresponding brand drugs," he said.

Speaking to reporters at the Health Ministry, Khalil said that the current market and the prices of pharmaceutical drugs in the country was set years ago and "change is required today."

"The pricing system of generic drugs and brand name drugs has faltered in recent years and various obstacles have been a burden to lowering the prices of medicine," said Khalil, who stressed the need to pass a number of legislative measures to reshape the industry.

The change in prices comes through the amendment of Law 306 of the Health Ministry, which regulates the pricing and supply of generic drugs and brand name drugs in the market.

"By amending Law 306, we will work to set a new system of pricing for medicine and we will also add a new article to the law to directly connect the prices of brand name medicine and the generic medicine," Khalil added.

Generic drugs are copies of brand name drugs that have exactly the same dosage, intended use, effects, usage, risks, and safety as the original drug.

Generic drugs are often significantly cheaper because manufacturers don't spend substantial amounts of money on researching and introducing a new drug into the market.

In the European Union and other countries in the world, prices of brand name drugs are substantially higher than generic drugs, but according to Khalil, brand name drugs are often cheaper than generic drugs in Lebanon.

"More than 80 percent of pharmaceutics in the European Union's market are generic medicine and all of them are approved by health authorities and they meet quality standards," said Khalil.

The minister told The Daily Star that some actions taken by the pharmaceutical industry in the country have led the public to prefer brand name drugs to generic drugs.

"Unfortunately in Lebanon, traders of pharmaceutics have spread a rumor and convinced most Lebanese that generic drug and brand name drugs are not the same," Khalil explained.

In a wide-ranging press conference at the Health Ministry, Khalil presented charts listing the various types of drugs whoseprices would be cut.

Speaking to reporters, Khalil also said that there are 1,369 drugs that are registered at the ministry but are not available in the market. "With a total 5,894 registered drugs in the country, there are only 4,525 drugs available in the market," said Khalil.

Most brand name and generic drugs are imported by Lebanese pharmaceutics companies

In addition to the pricing and availability of drugs on the market, incidents of illegal drug productionhave also fueled concerns at the ministry.

According to Khalil, a factory manufacturing counterfeit medicine was raided by the Internal Security Forces last month but is still in operation in the Bekaa.

Last month, the ISF confiscated some 200 large boxes of expired medication and 600 bottles of toxic chemicals used for drug production. The individuals in charge of the factory, identified by the initials Y.J. and B.J., were detained by the ISF in the Bekaa town of Ali al-Nahri.

"The ministry and the ISF cracked down on the facility but unfortunately so far there has been no judicial move to shut the factory down," said Khalil, adding that his ministry has no authority to shut it down.

Khalil told reporters that the Public Prosecutor's office has the sole authority to carry out such an order.

The minister had also launched Tuesday a hotline -- 1214 -- for information and complaints regarding general medical services.

The hotline will go into operation as of next Monday and will be staffed daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Copyright 2011, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Nov 16, 2011
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