Amidst the political tension and turmoil over controversies ranging from P-TOMS to Presidential elections, what could be a vital new chapter in the history of Sri Lanka was worked out last week with the finalization of a comprehensive draft for a National Medicinal Drugs Policy. The final two-day consultation was organized by the Health Ministry, and quite appropriately, it was held at the auditorium of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital ? underlining the message that the innocent children of the country and generations to come will reap immense benefits and be able to lead a healthier life when this policy is effectively implemented.
The consultation facilitated by Professor Chrishantha Weerasuriya, WHO regional adviser on drugs policy had the active participation of deans of medical faculties, medical consultants and officials of the GMOA, the People`s Movement for the Rights of Patients, top pharmacists and officials of the SPC, the SPMC and drug companies, among others. Some medical consultants and officials of drug companies reportedly tried to dilute or undermine the National Medicinal Drugs Policy by trying to get some key clauses deleted. These related to the cost effectiveness of drugs and the consideration of the country`s need for them at the point of registration. But the majority of the participants led by the GMOA and PMRP insisted that the interests of patients must be given priority over the commercial interests of drug companies -- and their view prevailed. In essence, the NMDP provides for the implementation of an essential medicines concept through which the number of drugs now being imported, prescribed and sold in Sri Lanka would be reduced from a staggering, if not sickening 9,000 to about 350 with provision made for about five dosage forms of each. Through this process, it is hoped that every Sri Lankan could reduce his or her medical expenses by about a 50% while the country as a whole could save billions of rupees in foreign exchange annually. The savings would come through the scrapping of imports of thousands of non-essential drugs under highly expensive brand names. Together with a significant price reduction, there would also be the equally important restoration of quality control to ensure that the people of this country get quality drugs at affordable prices. At present, because the number of drugs being imported, prescribed and sold are excessive by the thousands, the Drugs Regulatory Authority does not have the human or technical resources to sustain quality control and post-marketing surveillance.
Under the proposed NMDP, a wide-powered National Medicinal Drugs Regulatory Authority is to be set up to oversee registration of drugs, quality control and related factors. The implementation of all the policy principles in the NMDP and action plans arising from them will be monitored by a National Standing Committee. This committee comprising all stakeholders will be appointed by the Minister of Health on the recommendations of the Director General of Health Services. Health Ministry Secretary Ranjith Maligaspe, to whom the draft NMDP was formally handed over after the two-day consultation, gave an assurance that the Ministry would give top priority to the implementation of this policy document after approval by the Minister and the Cabinet. Drugs Regulatory Director B.S.R. Samarasinghe and other top health Ministry officials also gave an assurance that this time the NMDP would be effectively implemented for the well-being and welfare of millions of people and of generations to come. They said that comprehensive documents prepared in 1992 and 1996 for National Medicinal Policies had not gone to the stage of Cabinet approval and implementation but this time they promised that the healthy harvest from such a policy would go to the people. The well-being of millions of people is now very much in the hands of Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. Most of the Cabinet Ministers, especially Tissa Vitharana and D.E.W. Gunasekera are known to be throwing their full weight behind the NMDP. The People`s Movement for the Rights of Patients, on behalf of millions of people, is expressing hope and confidence that President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her government will push ahead with this healthy new chapter to remove the structural injustices in our healthcare service and transform it into a people-friendly instrument that plays a key role, not only in promoting good health but also in eradicating poverty.