Medicine prices out of control: Survey

30/12/2009 09:43

THE Consumer Council has found that there is very little or no competition at all in the retail pharmaceutical sector and consumers are suffering from high prices and lack of choice.

Despite basic medicines under percentage control, a Council analysis of prices for 2007 and 2009 has revealed an extraordinary hike in prices for even the most basic medicines.

The surveys covered basic prescription drugs for most common ailments and diseases suffered by the majority of people in Fiji such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and other non-communicable diseases.

The survey of 20 pharmacies around the country this year found a significant jump in prices compared to a similar survey in 2007. The survey found increases in some medicines from 100 to 180 percent (See Table Below). For example Metformin a widely used prescription drug for diabetes sold for 3 cents per tablet in 2007, now is available for 8 cents per tablet, an increase of 167 per cent. Propano, a popular prescription for hypertension was normally sold at 5 cents per tablet, but now retails at 14 cents, an increase of 180 percent.

DIABETES

Medicine

Tablet/Capsule

$ Ave 07

$ Ave 09

% Ave change

Daonil 5mg

Glipizide 5mg

Tablet (B)

0.12

0.16

Up by 33

Tablet (G)

0.06

0.09

Up by 50

Metformin 500mg

Tablet

0.03

0.08

Up by 167

HYPERTENSION

Esidrex

Tablet (B) 25mg

0.04

0.06

Up by 50

Tablet (G) 50mg

0.04

0.04

NIL

Hydro Chlorothiazide

Tablet (G)

0.03

0.05

Up by 67

Propano

Tablet 10mg

0.05

0.14

Up by 180

Tablet 40mg

NA

0.11

 

KEY:

(B) – Branded medicines which are original brands of the prescribed medicine. Prices are higher than generic medicines.

(G) – Generic medicines which are not the original brands of the prescribed medicine. Manufacturing countries differ for generic medicines.

The Council also found that while the 20 per cent devaluation of the Fiji dollar in March may have resulted in increases, the exorbitant price hikes of more than 100 percent are unjustified. Most of these are prescription medicines where the consumer has no choice but to buy because these are needed for illnesses or serious medical conditions.

An unjust situation consistently found in the Council's surveys and surveillance of the pharmacies in the country is the miserly difference in prices between branded and generic medicines. For instance, the branded diabetes prescription medicine, Minidab is sold for 9 cents for tablet, while its generic version Glix is not far down at 6 cents per tablet.

These medicines are under percentage price control list of the price regulator, the Prices & Incomes Board (PIB). However, the Council's surveys indicated significant increases in prices, some as high as 167 percent and 180 percent.

The Council's surveys and regular surveillance also noted a cartel-like operation in the sector with little diversity in ownership and lack of competitive pricing.

In the Suva central business district, there are 8 pharmacies in operation, and any expectation of brisk competition is quickly lost with very little or no price differences in even the basic common medicines. Some of these outlets are meters yet pricing and price ranges are similar. Three of these pharmacies are owed by one company, three are individually owned, while the remaining two belong to one pharmaceutical chain.

In Labasa Town, there are only two pharmacies and are owned by the same person. In Lautoka, two out of the five pharmacies have one owner, while the rest are single-owned outlets. How can there be competition in this sector with such limited diversity in ownership? The Council believes that better price control, changes to pharmaceutical ownership/licensing laws and other reforms can help bring a more just market for consumers.

The retail pharmaceutical market is out of control with exorbitant pricing and little or no competition at all.