Have you been overcharged on medicines and medical devices? Culprits could have been brought to book if Karnataka had a drug price monitor -- Price Monitoring and Research Unit (PMRU). Four years since the guidelines to set up one came, which was even revised and renamed this year, the state drug controller is blissfully unaware.
Karnataka has 38,000 medical shops and 27 drug inspectors. The drug inspectors have the responsibility of licensing these shops and monitor quality. But with such skeletal staff, the state drug controller minces no words in admitting that the drug control department hasn't been able to fulfil its mandate of inspecting these shops even once a year. So, inspecting cases of overcharging medicines become the last priority.
To put things in perspective, Kerala that has less than 3% of the country's population (Karnataka has more than 3% of India's population) had 40 drug inspectors in January this year when it became the first state to set up a PMRU.
Karnataka's drug control department could have gotten help if it had registered a Price Monitoring and Research Unit (PMRU) as a society as per the guidelines of the National Pharmaceutical and Pricing Authority (NPPA), India's drug price watchdog. This would enable it to get grants to recruit and pay salaries of a dedicated team for price violation monitoring -- a project coordinator, three field investigators and three data entry operators.
For infrastructure, grants of Rs 7 lakh and recurring expenditure of Rs 55 lakh per annum in two instalments is proposed in the NPPA guidelines. The unit is supposed to function under the chairmanship of the state drug controller and will be key in information gathering mechanism at the grassroots level. PMRUs will ensure that the benefits of the Drug Price Control Order (revised from time to time) trickle down to the grassroots level.
BT Khanapure, state drug controller told DH he was not aware of the guidelines. After DH sent a copy of the scheme's guidelines that has been renamed Consumer Awareness, Publicity and Price Monitoring, he said, "This requires funds and staff that we do not have. If the government gives us funds and asks us to form a unit, we will." However, it is the state that has to express a desire to set up a unit, apply for grants and register it as a society.
PMRUs have been registered so far in 10 states in Kerala, Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Nagaland, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
What are PMRUs?
-- PMRUs are registered societies of at least seven members with state drug controller as chairman and representatives of NPPA/state health department, civil societies and other stakeholders.
-- It monitors notified prices of medicines, pricing compliance and ensure availability
-- Oversee price of non-scheduled formulations (medicines out of price control) so that the prices are no increased more than 10% annually
-- Collect test samples of medicines from the retail market
-- Compile and analyse market data on medicines under price control and those outside of price control