WITH so much talk about the high prices of drugs in the country, ostensibly dictated for cartels, the news that there are moves to end this exploitation is welcome.
It is common knowledge that the public have been taken for a ride and left at the mercy of shylocks who have taken advantage of the shortage of drugs in government health facilities.
Simple prescription medicines which should be obtained without much fuss at pharmacies have been priced beyond the reach of desperate patients – they are exorbitantly priced.
That Government has teamed up with the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) in using a price index which will give people a universal price of the drugs to stop syndicates deciding on prices is welcome news.
Health Minister Sylvia Masebo who is responsible for ensuring that the country has a healthy population is right to express concern on reports of some pharmacies taking advantage of patients charging exorbitant prices on drugs.
And to ensure that this exploitation is curbed once and for all, Ms Masebo said “Government has joined forces with the ZPPA price index which will give people a universal price of the drugs unlike a situation where syndicates are the ones that decide the price.”
We believe this measure will bring sanity in the pharmaceutical industry and end the wanton exploitation of citizens.
By using the universal price index, people will have an idea of the price range for the medicines they are buying from pharmacies even though they are imported.
As Ms Masebo has noted, Government cannot impose price controls on drugs to curb cartels that are taking advantage of the public because the country has a free market economy that allows the entities to set their own prices.
Ms Masebo in an interview said that it was difficult for the government to deal with the cartels who were charging exorbitant prices for drugs like insulin and other medicines because the country had a liberalised economy.
But even under such a set up, we believe Government has a stronger voice to impress upon suppliers against exploiting the public just because they are a monopoly.
“I think suppliers should have a conscience and just do the right thing and not take advantage of the situation because there is no price control put in place,” she said.
The onus is on the pharmaceutical companies to do the right thing and not force the government to make them do the right thing.
Already, the Zambia Consumer Association (ZACA) has urged Government to probe the exorbitant pricing of medicines by certain pharmacies and get to the bottom of the matter before the country begins to lose lives.
ZACA executive secretary Juba Sakala said over pricing of drugs especially insulin has been a concern which relevant authorities should act on before it becomes a normal trend.
We agree with Mr Sakala that extortion of money from innocent people especially patients through exorbitant pricing of vital medicines is a serious matter that should not be tolerated.
“Reports of a cartel of pharmacies coming up with uncontrolled prices and selling insulin for diabetic patients at K350 from K180 are dangerous because we may have a situation where people will be dying because they don’t have money to buy drugs,” he said.
We do not want to paint a bad name for all pharmacies but it is important that they work with the Ministry of Health as well as the organisations like ZACA to make health products available to all – at the right price.
That we think should be the reason why they are in the health sector – to safeguard lives through the provision of affordable medications.