Ongoing relief operations in the flood-affected areas of Jammu & Kashmir could be impacted by a big shortage of certain essential medicines, including anti-malaria and anti-snake venom, across the country.
Taking cognizance, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has asked drug companies to immediately resolve the shortage and give a compliance report within four days.
Anti-malaria drugs and anti-snake venom are considered most important during the monsoon season and especially in flood-prone coastal regions. A scarcity of some other essentials such as anti-rabies vaccine, rabies immunoglobulin and albumin injections have also been reported to NPPA, whose mandate is also to keep a tab on availability of medicines in the country.
Albumin injections are mostly used after surgery in patients with kidney failure and the like.
“Many states have reported a shortage of these medicines during the past few months. We have also checked through our network and found it so,” an official told Business Standard. “Theoretically, there could be two reasons for such a shortage. One is that the demand has gone up and, second, the supply has reduced. The second reason is more likely.”
Some health experts allege the shortage is created by companies as a “blackmail tactic”, as most of these medicines are under price control and the government does not have a public sector manufacturing mechanism to address this.
On Friday, the Centre took charge of relief operations at Jammu & Kashmir. The health ministry is sending a team of doctors and experts, with medicines. The ministry said it was in the process of procuring more. A supply shortage can impact the programme.
Ranbaxy, Torrent Pharma, GlaxoSmithKline, Lupin and Serum Institute are among the comoanies which make manufacture many of the popular brands of anti-malaria drugs, anti-rabbies vaccine and anti-snake venom.
Under the Drugs Price Control Order, 2013, pharmaceutical companies making essential medicines are required to inform NPPA at least six months before planning to discontinue production of any. The government can direct a company to continue production for up to a year.
The official added the government and regulatory agencies were working to resolve the problem continue. “There can be various reasons for short supply. There can be inadequate supply of raw material or 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 companies for production data to ascertain the exact reasons for a shortage. In case of non-compliance, companies can attract penal action under the Essential Commodities Act, the official said.