On a day when the public would have been breathing a sigh of relief over the announcement of low prices of, once very costly, devices of cardiac and surgical treatment by the Central Purchase Committee, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) struck, and struck very hard, when it announced increasing the prices of medicines, with the approval of the federal government, by 15 per cent. According to a notification by DRAP, the prices of essential life-saving drugs have been increased by nine per cent and other medicines by 15 per cent. This is a life-threatening measure by the government, and the notification must be withdrawn in the larger public interest. Since no watchdog activism exists in this part of the world, it was left to the Pakistan Medical Association to raise concerns over the “unacceptable” increase in the prices of medicines by the federal government. In a statement, doctors’ representative body stated: “The announcement of 15 per cent hike in medicine prices by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan with the consent of the federal government is highly disappointing and unacceptable. It is very distressing that instead of providing any relief to the people, the government increased drug prices despite the fact that the older prices were already unaffordable”. Health service providers here have been thriving on public miseries, mainly due to strong lobbies of the stakeholders such as pharmacists, private hospital owners, doctors, medical teaching institutions and so on. These service providers work in organised clusters and make the most of their cluster work by coercing the government into accepting their demands and deals. People and patients remain unheard. Over the years, public hospitals have lost their appeal and quality, thanks to the unprofessional attitude of doctors, lack for beds, shortage of staff and no checks and balance. For these reasons, private hospitals and private medical institutions have become money-making machines. The only regulatory authorities, provincial healthcare commissions, are under an immense burden to provide justice to complainants and have failed to fix problems like illegal clinics, wrong prescriptions by doctors, negligence in treatment of patients and so on. Under these circumstances, the chief justice of Pakistan took a spate of independent actions, popularly known suo moto actions, into the affairs of public and private hospitals of different provinces. His actions on the healthcare system got a high public approval rate. The people welcomed his interference in public hospitals; the people welcomed his power that struck expensive hospitals. The most striking measure in the wake of the court’s interference was cut in the prices of stents. The government body unanimously approved Rs 30,500 and Rs 13,250 for the two types of the cardiac stents. Earlier, a poor heart patient would have to pay Rs 100,000 to Rs 500,000 for a stent implant. Now, it emerges that such devices were available for as low as Rs 13,250 to Rs 30,500. Judges’ interferences in the shape of independent action are not a sign of health government. Before suo moto action strikes, the government should realise that the price hike by DRAP will create a plethora of problems for the public. DRAP says the price hike was imminent after the devolution of the currency. True, the increase in dollar prices have directly increased the prices of imported raw materials and the packaging material of medicines. True, the production cost has increased due to a hike in the prices of fuel and utilities. Equally, it is a reality that the economic downturn in recent months has pulverised the public at large. The government needs to talk to pharmaceutical companies and drug importers to stall the hike for the time being, and until the economic recovery is into sight. Health-related measures must be visible in the upcoming mini-budget too. Public health should not be made pharmacists’ wealth. * Published in Daily Times, January 14th 2019.