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Generic medicines: Centre pushes for cheaper drugs

Generic medicinesIn a bid to make generic medicines more eye-catching, the Central government is planning to introduce an innovative marketing strategy to increase their brand awareness among consumers.

New Union Health Ministry plans would colour-code generic medicines to distinguish them from their more costly brand-name counterparts. This is in a bid to encourage consumers to make an informed decision on whether to go on-brand or off-brand when buying drugs. Proposals have also been made to mark generic medicines with symbols.

The plans come on the tail end of a number of measures advanced by the Union Health Ministry to promote sales of generic medicines in India. India has long been regarded as the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’, exporting large volumes of generic medicines to other markets. However, some analysts have suggested in recent years that holding onto this title might be a struggle, owing to a combination of increased competition from other drugmakers and more stringent regulations.

Nonetheless, generic medicines continue to make up the lion’s share of the pharmaceutical industry in India. Generics accounted for seventy percent of the pharma sector’s revenue in 2017. This manifests not only in a global effort to export generic medicines but it also seems to be a push to expand domestic use of generics.

Proposals made in recent years to upscale availability and use of generics have come thick and fast from the Centre. One proposal saw doctors being legally obliged to offer a generic medicine as an alternative to a branded one if one was available, by writing down the specific medication name rather than the brand. This provoked controversy and polarised reactions among drugmakers, chemists and doctors alike.

“The opening of state-run pharmacies exclusively providing generic medicines has also been a fixture of health policies…particularly prominent amidst rollout of schemes to expand access to healthcare”

The opening of state-run pharmacies to exclusively provide generic medicines has also been a fixture of health policies, both at the state and central levels. This is particularly prominent amidst rollout of schemes to expand access to healthcare – most notably Ayushman Bharat and the Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Jan Aushadhi Pari Yojana Kendra (PMBJPK).

PMBJK establishes special stores known as Jan Aushadi kendras, which exclusively sell generic medicines. More than 3,000 such stores are open nationwide at present. With Ayushman Bharat, commentators have identified a ‘pharma play’ to further strengthen the generics industry in India and provide a pathway for generic drugmakers to boost sales.

The bid to make generic medicines more accessible and appealing to consumers could bring down healthcare costs. This is not to say that the manifold challenges facing India’s generic drugs industry will go away, especially not when it comes to international sales. However, it cannot be denied that – at least for the moment – India’s generics industry remains a force that cannot be ignored.

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