The government has reduced the prices of 89 essential and life-saving medicines with immediate effect. This may offer temporary relief but the move is mere eyewash for the public reeling under the burden of a hike in prices of pharmaceutical products.
The public has been paying an exorbitant price for the past six months and a fifteen percent decrease is rather insignificant. PM’s aide on health Zafar Mirza has stated the government was supposed to reduce the prices of essential medicines by ten percent as per the price control policy 2018. He said the government will review the prices within the next two months.
In April last year, the prices of medicines were increased by a whopping 400 percent. The government appeared hapless against big pharma companies. Even NAB was compelled to take notice and investigate the exorbitant rise in prices. The prime minister was forced to take action and order a reduction within three days, while the national health services minister Aamer Mehmood Kiani was sacked.
Last year was a nightmare for the health sector, yet an alarm has not been raised. The horrifying number of HIV-positive cases in Sindh and Balochistan made headlines causing embarrassment around the world. Doctors blamed the outbreak on poor healthcare practices such as using dirty needles and contaminated blood, as the virus spread from high-risk groups such as drug users to the general population.
The HIV epidemic was coupled with an unprecedented rise in polio cases which reached 128 in 2019. Pakistan has struggled to contain the spread of polio as vaccine refusals have increased. There have been false rumours, misconceptions, and even violence leading to many parents refusing to administer polio drops to their children. The polio programme remains in shambles as the crisis worsens.
The paltry health budget was further slashed due to austerity measures. Pakistan is among those countries already spending less than two percent of the GDP on healthcare. The country suffered a dengue and typhoid outbreak in Punjab and Sindh respectively. There were more than 50,000 cases of dengue as no preventive measures were taken. The lack of rabies vaccines also led to several painful deaths from rabid dog bites.
It is clear that there is a healthcare crisis in Pakistan due to poor planning, untimely response and a lack of political will. A healthy society leads to a prosperous nation, yet our authorities expect that a small drop in prices will have a major impact. The country will be afflicted by serious diseases this year unless we spearhead efforts and considered healthcare a priority.