The Pakistan health ministry is all set to recommend sharp increase in prices of around a hundred life-saving drugs, media reports said.
It has already prepared such a far-reaching proposal and would put it up before the advisory committee on drug prices.
There are 300 medicines on the list of essential drugs of the ministry.
The move comes in the wake of a warning by pharmaceutical companies about impending shortage of the drugs in the market because it is not feasible for them to continue their production at the current prices.
Chairman Pakistan Pharmaceutical Association (PPMA) Kashif Sajjad Shaikh had asserted recently the price cap on medicines during the last eight years had almost crippled the pharmaceutical industry.
On the one hand, the cost of imported raw material had risen manifold due to depreciation of Pakistani rupees in the past several years and appreciation in foreign currencies like euro and yuan and rise in oil prices, while on the other the prices of medicines were fixed in Pakistan.
Kashif Shaikh said that pharma companies could not compromise on quality and the
simple solution was the stop production of those medicines which were costly to avoid losses.
"The committee will consider the companies' request for an increase in prices of their products," an official told Dawn, adding that the recommendations would be made on a case to case basis.
However, a final decision will be taken by Sherry Rehman who is looking after the health ministry.
The ministry submitted a list of medicines to Rehman some time ago seeking her approval for the price increase, but she referred the matter to the advisory committee.
Although officials did not disclose the extent of the raise, they confirmed that the pharmaceutical companies in certain cases were demanding an increase of up to 600 per cent. The average increase demanded by the industry is about 20 per cent.
The decision would, however, be taken on the basis of the ministry's own assessment, the officials added.
Dr Talib Lashari, director of Network, a consumer rights group, criticised the move and said it would be "a wrong political decision".
Several pharmaceutical companies have already raised prices of their products over the past few months in violation of the Drugs Act. The health ministry has also allowed the increase in prices of some essential medicines. The last across-the-board increase was allowed by the government in 2001.
It may be mentioned that in the 2008-09 budget the government has granted several concessions to the pharmaceutical industry to maintain prices of medicines at the current levels.
The customs duty on pharmaceutical ingredients and packaging material was reduced by five per cent and certain life-saving drugs and medical supplies were exempted from import duties and sales tax.
Jurgen Koenig, the head of Pharma Bureau, a representative body of multinational pharmaceutical companies, has demanded a transparent and predictable pricing policy for drugs. He has said the pharmaceutical companies are finding it difficult to survive because of a 180 per cent increase in prices of raw material and 60 per cent hike in the cost of glass.