Most of the people are ignorant of the distinction between generic and branded categories of medicine in the pharma world. In fact, both the types of medicines are manufactured with the same raw materials and ingredients. One is generic and the other one is branded. The generic medicines are comparatively cheaper than the branded ones. Even if the shopkeeper in a medical shop tries to enlighten the public, the latter are hesitant to accept the truth because the branded ones have been prescribed by the doctors. As the people are not technically able to understand the fact that both are same and the branded ones are only prescribed by the doctors who are no exception in the world of pharma, the exploitation is more. Moreover, it is something concerned with the life of the patients and hence the public are apprehensive that the doctors would object to change of name of the medicines. This practice has become rampant in India and the middle-income group and the poor are subjected to unwanted loss in effect. However, this basic awareness is to be created in the minds of common people.
In spite of the fact that in 2008 itself, this generic medicine sale plan has been introduced, this has not unfortunately reached the lay people as a result of which these shops remain insignificant. Government-sponsored shop known as Jan Aushadhi is selling these generic medicines for the benefit of people but they remain unpopular for want of proper awareness. Now that the Government has again decided to lift it up, it will definitely change the order of the day. The Government through its wing, Bureau of Pharma arranges to give licence to these shops.
Government offers Rs.2.5 L subsidy also for the generic medical shops and these shops are fairly prevalent in Kerala, UP, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, it is yet to pick up. While more and more shops are in the offing, there is currently one shop in the name of Bharat Vikas General Medical Shop in Mandaveli, Chennai. This shop is the subsidiary unit of ‘Bharat Vikas Parishath Jana Seva Trust which is spread throughout our nation for the past twenty years. This Trust mainly helps in supplying the artificial limbs and other services to the poor and the needy. Sankar is the head of the southern unit here and the Hyderabad unit, headed by Subba Rao has opened 13 such generic shops and all of them are successfully running. Subba Rao is chiefly responsible for creating the Chennai unit here. Incidentally, Sankar is not a pharma graduate but an engineer. Sankar went to Hyderabad and spent three months to understand and get trained in this trade and then started the Chennai unit which is now two years old.
When Sankar contacted the different doctors and pharma shops before starting this shop in Chennai, he was rather discouraged by many. However, thanks to Subba Rao, he boldly started this and the shop is managed by an experienced person, by name Raja.
Raja further says that they would not simply sell the medicines without prescription. Also, they will frankly tell the customers to check with their doctors before consuming. They mainly help the customers to buy the same medicines at a cheaper cost. Though the Government says that the medical practitioners need to prescribe only the generic medicines clearly mentioning their names in the prescription, they do not implement it strictly. They write the names of branded medicines which are costlier. The same paracetamol tablet which is prescribed for fever is priced from Re.1/- to Rs.20/-. The doctors are equally responsible for mentioning the brand in the prescription. The only remedy lies in strict implementation of the rules in place.
People in this line of trade opine that the doctors are particularly prescribing the branded medicines only for the consideration that they get from the concerned medical representatives in the form of small stationery items to big deal like annual vacation for their family and other freebies.
Sankar further says that people are also equally hesitant to approach them for generic medicines. They strictly go by the prescriptions given by the doctors. In fact, anyone can access google and search for the details of available medicines for their ailments with price and dosage details. But they are reluctant to do so.
What are generic medicines?:-
If a company invents a new medicine they are patent-protected to sell for a particular period of time like 12,13 and 14 years. No other company is allowed to manufacture the same medicine using the same inputs. Once the period is over, other companies can also come out with their own medicines using the same inputs as a result of which the cost will come down.
But, however, certain medicines like inhaler, rotohaler that are used by asthma patients are never manufactured by other companies despite completion of the above-stated period. Alternatively, the cost of the same is increased year after year thus putting the common people to greater difficulties.
Plight of common people:-
For those who are wealthy as well as covered by mediclaim policy, the higher cost of medicines may not be an issue at all. But at the same time, it is a major problem for the middle-income, low-income groups of people including senior citiziens with or without pension. In United States, a patient will be given the option to pick and choose any brand of medicine on the basis of cost. The shopkeeper will also explain and explain about different medicines at different prices; but whereas in India, such a transparent facility is not made available. If the same medicine, as prescribed by the doctor, is not bought, the doctor will object.
Whose responsibility is this, then?:-
It is true that because this shop, Bharat Vikas General Medical Shop is run by a Trust, it is able to survive; otherwise, the profit is comparatively less for the shop. Hence, it is the Government’s basic responsibility to open more number of shops in all areas in order to benefit the poor and middle-income people. Government offers innumerable items free of cost in order to protect their vote bank. If they pitch in this arena and open as many shops as possible to sell essential drugs at a cheaper cost, what else can be better and greater boon to the people?
(This article written in Tamil by Balu Sathya has been reproduced in English by P.S.Ramamurthy)