Carlo too comes out to expose proposed bill

Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) President, Prof. Carlo Fonseka yesterday came out in support of the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) and other health action groups who want to expose the proposed Act for the setting up of the Medicinal Drugs and Cosmetics Devices Regulatory Authority as a distortion of Prof. Senaka Bibile’s drug policy.

Prof. Fonseka, contacted for comment, said that according to Prof. Bibile Drug Policy implemented successfully in several countries, including Bangladesh, the first step was to reduce the number of drugs being imported and prescribed. The transnational pharmaceutical companies which were among the biggest profit makers in the world had been manufacturing about 70,000 varieties of drugs, most of which were marketed under highly expensive brand names, Prof. Fonseka said.

He pointed out that the late Prof. Bibile had proposed that for a country like Sri Lanka about 1,000 varieties of drugs would be sufficient to meet the country’s healthcare needs. But, the proposed Act made little or no provision for this while Sri Lanka had at least 15,000 varieties of drugs registered for import and prescription. The Prof. Bibile Drug Policy recommended that drugs should be prescribed under the generic or chemical names and not brand or proprietary names. The present draft Bill was vague on the issue and gave doctors the option to prescribe drugs under expensive brand names.

Prof. Bibile had also proposed that for the benefit of the ordinary people the State should have a monopoly over the import of medicinal drugs, said Prof. Fonseka. That was meant to provide the best quality drugs to the people at affordable prices. When the Bibile policy was implemented in late Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in 1972 and Prof. Bibile had become the first Chairman of the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, 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, warned the Sri Lankan government that US aid would be stopped if the Bilile policy was not scrapped.

Prof. Fonseka said that another factor in the Bibile vision was for Sri Lanka to manufacture most of its drugs. That was done by setting up the SPMC which flourished under Prof. Bibile’s stewardship but with his resignation the SPMC was gradually undermined and today it did not manufacture even a fraction of Sri Lanka’s pharmaceutical requirements, the SLMC President said. The 83 pages Draft Bill did not match the original Bibile’s policy at all. Around 15,000 kinds of drugs were being imported, but no one could ensure their safety and efficacy while some expensive capsules might contain only wheat flour though they came under well-known brand names.

"Prof. Bibile also proposed that if the number of drugs imported was brought down to fewer than one thousand, then the National Drug Quality Assurance Laboratory could test the quality of all drugs. The proposed Draft Bill did not have any such provision, he added. Minister Maithripala Sirisena must be genuinely interested in implementing the original Prof. Bibile Drug Policy, but the drug Mafia will do everything possible to sabotage Minister’s efforts," Prof Fonseka stressed.

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