(File pix) The cost of medicines is often cited in discussions or complaints about the increasing cost of healthcare.

This a subject that is close to the hearts of many. Recently, the Health Ministry announced its intention to make the prices of medicines available to consumers. It received a mixed response.

The cost of medicines is often cited in discussions or complaints about the increasing cost of healthcare. While the cost of medicines is a component of healthcare costs, it is not the sole determinant.

More information on prices and pricing may address some of these concerns.

In Malaysia, the Drug Control Authority, through the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), is tasked to ensure the safety, efficacy and quality of pharmaceuticals.

NPRA uses internationally accepted standards and testament to this is Malaysia’s membership in the Pharmaceutical Inspection Cooperation Scheme.

We must accept that pharmaceutical companies are not welfare organisations, but businesses. Consumers recognise this and only expect responsible pricing by the pharmaceutical companies.

However, it is not always about profit.

It must also be recognised that pharmaceutical companies bring to market “orphan drugs” for rare diseases that do not have a large enough market for the manufacturer to recoup their research and development costs. Many countries offer incentives to pharmaceutical companies to encourage them to produce such drugs that are needed by a small segment of society.

There are organisations such as Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, which attempt to develop potentially effective compounds as medicines.

Some countries regulate the prices of medicines. Malaysia practises a free market system as far as drug prices are concerned. The government does not control drug prices.

The system has worked well and patients have access to medicines, except for some drugs, where the cost becomes prohibitive and, therefore, the number of patients who receive a particular treatment may have to be restricted because of budgetary constraints.

Recently, the government announced its intention of asking pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors to inform the ministry of the recommended retail price of a drug.

The idea is to compile a list of drugs with the prices for drugs with the same ingredients in the same amounts. As there is a significant difference between the price of a generic medicine and an original patented medicine, and for reasons mentioned previously, the list should separate the prices of generic and original products.

The intention is to inform the public that medicine prices are not fixed and there is a range of prices for a drug. If this information is available, consumers and patients can find out whether they have been overcharged or given a discount by the healthcare provider.

EMERITUS PROFESSOR DR P.T. THOMAS, Executive Dean, Faculty of Health & Medical Sciences, Taylor’s University

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