ISLAMABAD: Noting the recent upsurge in drug prices and their shortage, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman said that the federal government should declare a national health emergency and review its pricing policies. She also called on the government to ensure the availability of medicines in all pharmacies and to unburden the poor by reducing prices. The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) on July 22 announced an increase in drug prices, the second price increase announcement within two months. “Last month, the authority allowed an 8% price increase of Tuberculosis (TB) medicines,” Rehman said and added, “Those footing the bills cannot afford it.” According to the Pakistan Pharmacists’ Association, prices of around 70,000 life-saving drugs for hepatitis, diabetes, heart, kidney and related issues and antibiotics will increase with this decision of the federal government. “The price hike will affect everyone, especially the lower class, who suffer most from these diseases and cannot even afford one meal a day,” she said. Rehman said that the price escalation – from 1.43% to 2.86% – has caused a nationwide drug shortage. She said that the shutting down of pharmaceutical companies need targeted subsidies so that drug production could increase. “We don’t need quality pharmaceutical manufacturers to disappear from Pakistan either,” said Rehman, “We need a policy that addresses both the pricing and the shortages.” – Tuberculosis – With Pakistan among the top five countries for TB, adding 500,000 people to the list every year, Rehman said that apart from affordability, the shortages would create a vacuum where patients will become more susceptible to the drug resistant strain of the disease. “I raised the unavailability of TB medicine issue in the Senate and now I draw the attention of the government towards the mismanagement in treating the disease in public sector hospitals and in TB Centres – working under the national control programme,” she said. She called on the government to get its priorities in order and told them to facilitate the people, saying, “If big Pharmaceutical companies stopped production, find a middle path – if they need high prices for life-saving drugs to keep production lines going then provide a subsidy but plug the shortage.” – Hepatitis – Deploring the government’s passivity against the endemic viral infections Hepatitis B and C as ‘criminal’ Rehman said, “Over 15 million Pakistanis are infected with Hepatitis B and C, nearly 400 people die every day due to a lack of awareness and inaccessible treatment facilities.” She said that Pakistan has the second largest number of patients infected with Hepatitis after China. “Unfortunately, this curable and preventable viral infection is the fastest growing infectious disease in Pakistan. The government should announce a national health emergency and launch public awareness campaigns against the disease,” she concluded.