Cheap medicine of good quality?
By Nigar Orujova
Azerbaijani officials who recently discussed the regulation of medicines prices are now concerned over the effectiveness of medicaments.
The country is producing only a miniscule share of medicines, while the overwhelming majority is imported. Over 4,560 medicines passed state registration in Azerbaijan in 2014. This makes the prices for medicaments vary due to currency fluctuations.
The prices of medicine in the country, on the back of the devaluation of the manat, have led to many changes - no all welcomed.
When President Ilham Aliyev expressed his concerns over the prices of medicines at a Cabinet meeting on the results of 2015 first quarter, he also mentioned the quality of medicines.
Along with stricter control over prices, he also ordered the government to control, and develop a new mechanism to regulate quality.
All medicines imported to Azerbaijan are checked before reaching pharmacies and hospitals. The country bans the import of medicine to the country without a proper license, permission or other relevant documents.
Health Minister Ogtay Shiraliyev earlier stated that Azerbaijani citizens have more faith in the effectiveness of medicines that they bought from Europe for themselves, rather than those that are on sale in the country.
“Unfortunately, people bring the medication they need from abroad and not because they are cheaper there. Therefore it is necessary to strengthen the work in this sphere."
"First of all it is necessary that all laboratory tests on imported products are carried out at a high level. Secondly, it is necessary to strengthen the control over the qualities of medicines onsite,” he said.
The minister went on to add that his organization will spare no effort in ensuring that the Center for Analytical Examination has the opportunity to study the quality of medication in each of the country's pharmacies. It is necessary to determine how and where low-quality products are imported and to prevent such [negative] cases, he added.
“High-quality medicines should be on sale in Azerbaijan, as they are in Europe," said Shiraliyev.
Under the new regulation on medicine prices, the Tariff Council will determine 5-10 countries to import medicines from. Medicaments prices for Azerbaijan will be set based on manufacturers’ prices.
Prescribed medicine will be sold at lower prices than non-prescription medicines, which prices will be higher. Approved prices will be published on medicines packages.
Trick or treat
Head of the Azerbaijani Free Consumers Union, Eyyub Huseynov said that 30-60 percent of the world medicines are counterfeit.
Despite the fact that Azerbaijan is fighting against the dissemination and sale of fake medicines the country has been inundated with them - 30-40 percent of the market, he added.
He noted that 90 percent of all raw materials for medicines in the world are manufactured by India where counterfeit medicines have been legalized.
“Medication is the only product that consumer buys not on his own volition,” Huseynov noted. “Distributors of medicines influence the choice of ninety percent of doctors.”
The Union is concerned about the possibility that in the future, the medication business will be monopolized. This monopoly may first lower prices and then raise it back, he believes.
The second danger is that country may soon receive many medicines at low prices, but of poor quality.
To avoid this problem, the Union proposes to create conditions for suppliers to have access to the manufacturers. This will create competition, lower prices and improve on quality.
Huseynov went on to add that Azerbaijan produce only 2 percent of its medicines. However, the production might develop on the back of higher demand.
“For the last three years when I went abroad, I saw that there are approximately 20 times more pharmacies in Azerbaijan than abroad. And there is always a queue in them, which shows demand. Unfortunately, it also shows many sick people,” he said.
If there is a demand, there should be a supply. “It would be better if it was a local production,” he added.
The current situation proves the importance of local production in the economy of Azerbaijan. It is necessary to reduce the country dependence on import, develop the pharmaceutical industry, and create as well as promote enterprises in the country for the production of medicines necessary for the population.
Local production is the question
The question thus arises - can the country produce medicines itself?
The issue will take time, but the idea is far reaching. It will also open new opportunities such as the export of a wide range of quality medicines marked "Made in Azerbaijan", thus promoting Azerbaijan.
Economic expert, Oqtay Haqverdiyev believes that Azerbaijan cannot become entirely self-sufficient when it comes to medicines, as the most part is imported in.
“However, some special medications like insulin, which we import and distribute to patients for free, can be produced here. It is not so difficult,” he said.
Speaking about profitability, he said, "Medicines are not meant to generate big gains."
“We cannot replace all imports. However, we have a plant for the production of iodine almost free from sea water. And we supplied it abroad. Today, we can restore it, and export such production. This money can then be used to buy other medicines,” Haqverdiyev added.
He noted that if necessary the Ministry of Economic Development can develop a program for the development of the production of medicines in the country.
“They should choose the most appropriate medication, draw from Germany experience and not India, and all this would turn out very well,” the expert believes.
Nigar Orujova is AzerNews’s staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @o_nigar
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