It is a known fact that India is a global leader in the generic drugs market, exporting drugs to Africa and other emerging markets, including the US. On October 2, 2012, the Union Health Ministry and the Medical Council of India issued a directive that generic drugs in India would not be sold under branded names but only by their generic names and all doctors and physicians in the Central and State Governments-run hospitals should prescribe only medicines with generic names. However, the use of branded drugs still continues.
What you need to know about generic drugs
Generic drugs have the same chemical composition as branded drugs. But they are sold under the chemical names which are not familiar with the general public. For example, for popular branded drugs like Crocin and Calpol, their generic name is Paracetamol. In India, till 2005, there were no patent laws in the drug market unlike the FDA patent in the USA. This meant that in India any person could replicate any drug without legal ramifications. This led to the increased demand and share (99.5% of the country’s generic drug share) of branded generic drugs.
Difference in price of generic drugs and branded drugs
One of the main reasons for advocating generic drugs by the Government was due to the significant price difference between generic and branded drugs. According to a report published in 2010, some price differences in some of the popular drugs under their generic names and branded names were as follows:
- Generic drug paracetamol : Price Rs 2.45 ; Branded drug Crocin: Rs 11, Calpol: Rs 10.70
- Generic paracetamol syrup: Rs 9.00; Branded Crocin syrup: Rs 15.00
- Generic diclofenac sodium + paracetamol: Rs 4.4; Branded Diclogesic: Rs 19.40
- Generic Amoxycilin: Rs 13.2; Branded LMX: Rs 40, Remox: Rs 38.7
- Generic Azithromycin: Rs 41.8; Branded Azee: Rs 107, Azithral Rs 128.55
- Generic folic acid: Rs 2.8; Branded Folivite: Rs 11.8
- Generic B-complex: Rs 1.8; Branded Becosul : Rs 11.0
These are just a few of the examples.
Why should preference be on generic drugs?
One prime reason to popularise generic drug by the Government is to make drugs and medicines affordable for people, who cannot otherwise afford the expensive branded medicines and the private hospitals. As it is, more than 70% of India’s population lives in the rural areas, out of which around 35% is either below the poverty line or close to it. Another reason for the use of generic drugs is to reduce the unethical practices of doctors who deliberately prescribe branded drugs over generic drugs. It is rumoured that private doctors would prescribe branded drugs because there are incentives or kickbacks from the pharma companies. The use of generic drugs, which are no different from the branded ones, will reduce the rising cost on healthcare and the poor people can benefit.
What the doctors say about generic drugs?
There is a difference of opinion regarding this. Most of the doctors are not sure about the quality of generic drugs. According to a doctor in AIIMS, “there are certain generic medicines that don’t work like the branded ones. In AIIMS, certain generic drugs are not prescribed, instead branded ones are preferred.”
Whether there is a difference in quality between generic drugs and branded ones is difficult to answer by the entire medical fraternity be it the doctors, chemists, pharmaceutical representatives. Some say that they are as good and same as branded ones while others feel that they are not of good quality. Some others say that they are less effective. Doctors are more sure about the availability of the branded drugs rather than the generic ones as there is no advertising and marketing of generic drugs.
Where are generic drugs available?
Generic drugs are found in almost all chemist shops but they don’t keep a stock of all generic medicines. To buy a generic medicine, the patient has to ask for generic version of a branded drug. It is the responsibility of the department of pharmaceuticals of the Government for promoting generic drugs. But sadly, promotion and marketing have not been done properly or have not been done at all. To promote affordable drugs, the Government had in 2008 set up a scheme called Jan Ausadhi, whose objective was to open generic drug stores around the country. The scheme had a target of setting up 3,000 generic drugs stores in the country but till 2012, only 300 stores were set up.
Why are generic drugs not popular?
It is a known fact in India that people are influenced by the “brand name” of a product, be it clothes, cosmetics, accessories, including grocery, durables or medicines. In the case of the medicines market, the brand names are more popular. Certain names of medicines have a powerful impact on people’s minds that both the medicine and the brand have become synonymous. For the over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, majority of people are aware of the brand names rather than their chemical or generic names.
Yes, there is lack of awareness about generic drugs. It was through the TV serial, Satyamev Jayate, that many people came to know about the existence of generic drugs. Also, in India, there is a certain section of the population who feels that since these are comparatively cheaper, they may be of inferior quality. Chemists give medicines that are written on the prescription and in most cases, the doctors don’t prescribe generic drugs.
The Government is also to blame for the lack of awareness. The Department of Pharmaceuticals has failed to do enough promotion of generic drugs and the proper implementation of the Jan Ausadhi scheme.
Steps to promote generic drugs
- One way is to reduce illicit medical practices.
- The Medical Council of India has already given strict instructions to doctors to prescribe generic medicines. But very few private practitioners usually do this. So strict measures should be adopted so that the doctors are compelled to prescribe generic medicines.
- More steps are needed to be taken to strengthen the Jan Ausadhi scheme.
- Measures should also be taken to end the doctor-big pharma nexus.
- The MCI needs to provide more practical guidelines.
- Also the Government should take measures to increase awareness of generic drugs to the general public.
- The Jan Ausadhi stores that are available today are either run by the hospital’s administration or some NGOs in the Government hospitals and public healthcare centres. Steps should be taken to encourage more and more private companies or individuals to open generic drug stores.
- The Government should control the MRP of drugs, generic or branded, so that benefits reach the common man.
- The IMA should also take measures to ensure quality, safe, affordable generic drugs.
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