Sri Lanka’s Healthcare and Nutrition Ministry has announced that pharmaceutical sales representatives will no longer be allowed to enter government health institutions during clinic hours. Also, all prescriptions issued both government and private hospitals must now be written generically; the use of brand names is prohibited, in a move which government sources say is aimed at achieving significant reductions in the costs of essential, effective and safe drugs.

As a result of the new regulations, poor patients will no longer be “forced to spend huge sums on branded drugs when lower priced generic drugs are available,” and the country will make substantial gains in terms of foreign exchange from savings on imported branded drugs, says the national newspaper the Daily News, which applauds Healthcare and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva for taking this “brave decision.” It is “well known that branded drugs cost at least three or four times more than the generic equivalent. There is no added benefit that patients can gain from taking the branded drug instead of the generic drug,” says the newspaper, which adds that the move “is not likely to go down well with the multinational pharmaceuticals companies.”

The Daily News says that the government must now take steps to encourage more R&D to be conducted at the State Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) and local universities and institutes, and to boost levels of manufacturing at the SPMC. Moreover, it needs to regulate private pharmacies and open more branches of the state-run Osu Salas medicines sales outlets, with the backing of by a public awareness campaign.

Sri Lanka first set up a list of medicines for purchase by the state health care system in 1959, and in 1972 it established the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) to procure medicines nationwide. In 1997, companies were permitted to import medicines, under government control, and in 1987 the SPMC was set up to import raw materials and manufacture generic essential medicines.

Rules tightened in Vietnam
Meantime, new regulations introduced this month by the Drug Administration of Vietnam include a ban on doctors prescribing medicines requested by their patients. Also, drug stores will be prohibited from supplying more than 10 days’ supply of any medication.