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SC notice on generic drugs

New Delhi, Aug. 13: The Supreme Court today asked the Centre and all states and Union territories to respond to a public interest plea that sought a directive to government hospitals and primary health units to prescribe generic drugs so that millions could access affordable healthcare.

Justices Dipak Misra and Y. Gopala Gowda asked the governments concerned to reply within six weeks and appointed senior counsel Maralappa to assist the court as amicus curiae.

Compared with branded medicines, manufactured by pharmaceutical companies across the world, generic drugs are cheaper.

The PIL, filed by social activist Reepak Kansal, alleged flagrant violation and abuse of health norms because of non-enforcement of the 1983 National Health Policy that envisaged production of essential and life-saving drugs under their generic names and adoption of economical packages to bring treatment within the reach of the poorer sections of society.

The petitioner contended that use of generic drugs would go a long way in reducing the country’s healthcare expenditure and ensure affordable healthcare to millions of people in the country.

Denial of affordable healthcare amounted to violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 (right to life and liberty), the petition contended.

Kansal urged the apex court to direct government authorities to promote the use and prescription of generic drugs — unbranded, standard quality drugs sold under their chemical name.

“It is to be noted that more than 70 per cent of India’s population lives in rural areas and nearly 40 per cent of the population is either below the poverty line or hovering close to it. Public healthcare is the only option for millions of the rural poor who cannot afford costly private healthcare…” the petition said.

“Almost whole of the population in rural areas don’t have medical insurance. And as they cannot afford private medical practitioners, they end up going to rural quacks or don’t take treatment at all,” it added.

According to the petitioner, even doctors in rural areas prescribe mostly non-generic medicines. “Since these medicines are expensive, they (patients) are forced to spend a considerable portion of their income on medical expenses, and those who cannot afford (the medicines) are forced to discontinue the medication.”

The petition also said it was a common practice among doctors to use brand names when prescribing medicines.