21 August 2003
The National Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (NAPM) is on a drive to raise awareness around the benefits of using generic medicines, which can drastically reduce health care costs in the country.
Generic medicines are produced after the patent on an original medicine expires. Other manufacturers are then entitled to copy the original product using the same active ingredients as contained in the original medicine. Generic medicines are much less expensive than the original medicines because of the costly and extensive research usually required before the latter are manufactured.
Some development work is still required for making generic medicines, however, and generics must also be registered with the Medicines Control Council (MCC) before they can be sold in SA.
Comments Muhammad Bodhanyia, chairman of the NAPM, which represents most local generic medicines manufacturing companies in SA: “The increased use of generics can make a major contribution to reducing health care costs in South Africa.
“There is also a role for patented medicines that can provide patients with the latest technology to cure disease and eliminate the need for costly surgery and hospitalisation. The patented medicines of today and tomorrow are our generics of the future.”
SA could use more generics
But SA still lags behind in its use of generic medicines. According to the NAPM, generic medicines account for almost 52% of the volume of all prescriptions, whereas this figure is as low as 20% in SA. The organisation believes that using more generics could save the country in the region of around R24-billion.
Bodhanyia says that although the use of generics in SA has increased in volume terms, there has only been a 1% increase in the use generics from a value perspective over the last five years, while the increase in the total cost of medicines has increased substantially more than that.
According to Bodhanyia, there is a need for some legislative change to speed up the process of manufacturing generics. Firstly, the “uninhibited” extension of patents delays the production of generics, and secondly, a situation exists whereby manufacturers of generic drugs need to provide samples of their generics for registration with the MCC but are unable to make them because of patent protection over the original medicines. This results in a delay from when the patent expires and when the generic become available.
Extending treatment options
Countries like Canada, Israel and Australia have managed to overcome this problem, enabling generic equivalents to be launched onto the market as soon as the patents on the originals expire.
“The sooner generics can be launched, the sooner price savings on those medicines will be realised to the benefit of the people and in keeping with the government’s intention of making medicine more accessible”, says Bodhanyia.
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has lent support to NAPM’s initiative to raise awareness among health professionals and the general public on the use of generics.
“In the public health sector, where fixed budgets place limits on treatment, more affordable medicines could extend treatment options. And for consumers, lower medicine prices will stretch medical aid cover and make out-of-pocket payments easier”, Tshabalala-Msimang said.