Proposed drug policy total distortion of Prof. Bibile’s vision: PMRP

The People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) and other health action groups will come together to expose the proposed Act for the setting up of the Medicinal Drugs and Devices Regulatory Authority as a distortion of Professor Senaka Bibile’s vision.

Speakers addressing a seminar at Centre for Society and Religion in view of the Dr. K. Balasubramaniam commemoration, organised by the PMRP said the 84-page Act was a far cry from the Bibile Drug Policy.

The speakers included Sri Lanka Medical Council President Prof. Carlo Fonseka, Consultant physician Dr. Ananda Wijewickreme and public interest litigation lawyer Chrishmal Warnasuriya, while parliamentarians Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickeremaratne were among the participants.

The speakers pointed out that according to Prof. Bibile’s drug policy implemented successfully in many countries including Bangladesh the first step was to reduce the number of drugs being imported and prescribed. At present transnational pharmaceutical companies which were among the biggest profit-makers in the world produced about 70,000 varieties of drugs, most of which are marketed under highly expensive brand names.

Professor Bibile proposed that for a country like Sri Lanka about 1,000 varieties of drugs would be sufficient to meet the countries health care needs. But, the proposed Act makes little or no provision for this while Sri Lanka has at least 15,000 varieties of drugs registered for import and prescription.

According to Prof. Bibile’s vision drugs should be prescribed under their generic or chemical names and not brand or proprietary names. Again the proposed Act was vague on the issue and gives doctors the option to prescribe expensive brand names. Professor Bibile widely respected as one of the world’ most respected medical visionaries also proposed that for the benefit of the common people, the state should have a monopoly over the import of medicinal drugs. That was meant to provide best quality drugs to the people at affordable prices.

When the Bibile policy was implemented by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in 1972 and Prof. Bibile had become the first Chairman of the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC), which became the sole importer of drugs by calling for worldwide tenders and  choosing safe efficacious and cost effective  drugs in a transparent manner, but in 1976 the United States government, under pressure from the  pharmaceutical giants dubbed as Big Pharma, had warned the Sri Lankan government that US aid would be stopped if the Bibile policy was not scrapped, the speakers pointed out.

The Prime Minister had given in because at that time Sri Lanka was heavily dependent on US aid especially for the import of wheat flour.

A sad Professor Bibile resigned and went to British Guinea for a top United Nations post but died there at the age of 57 and many analysts said the circumstances of his death were mysterious.

Another factor in the Bibile vision was for Sri Lanka to manufacture most of its drugs. That was done by setting up the State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation which flourished under Professor Bibile’s stewardship but with his resignation the SLMC was gradually undermined and today it carried little more than its name and did not produce even a fraction of Sri Lanka’s pharmaceutical requirements, the speakers pointed out.

Professor Bibile had also proposed that if the number of drugs imported was brought down to less than one thousand, then the National Drug Quality Assurance laboratory could test the quality of all drugs.

It was pointed out at the commemoration that now with around 15,000 drugs being imported, no one could ensure their safety and efficacy while some expensive capsules might contain only wheat flour, though they came under well-known brand name.

The speakers said that at present there were dictatorial trends and therefore the most effective course would be to educate the people and bring them to the streets to demand that the genuine Bibile policy be implemented as a first step towards restoring a health service where the well-being of the patients was given priority.

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