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Home / Health & Science

My fight for cheaper medicines is far from over, says pharmacist

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy GRAHAM KAJILWA | Tue,Aug 16 2016 00:00:00 EAT
By GRAHAM KAJILWA | Tue,Aug 16 2016 00:00:00 EAT

 Kenya Pharmaceuticals Distributors Association Chairman Kamamia wa Murichu displays his 'Titans Building Nations' award, which he received for his efforts to make drugs affordable to Kenyans. He received the award at a ceremony held in Nairobi yesterday. (PHOTO: WILLIS AWANDU/ STANDARD)

You (or your relative) fall sick and your doctor gives a prescription with strict instructions to buy a particular brand, often the most expensive.

The doctor argues that cheap is not original, it is a counterfeit and you believe him because you value your health.

Well, your doctor may be wrong. In fact, your doctor is wrong if you ask Dr Kamamia wa Murichu from the Kenya Pharmaceuticals Distributors Association (KPDA).

Murichu imports medicine just like any other pharmacist in the country. The difference is his are cheaper and readily available compared to those imported by the registered agents of the multi-billion-shilling international manufacturers.

“It is called parallel importation which is not illegal. Our products are of the same quality as those sold by the said agents but multinationals are fighting us claiming that they are counterfeits,” said Murichu.

The award

It is his commitment to pursue this calling of business driven by humanity, and not profit, that saw the KPDA chair awarded with the ‘Titans Building Nations’ award yesterday.

“It cannot be that we buy medicine at 30 to 50 per cent more compared to the multinationals themselves,” he says.

An example is an antibiotic that sells at Sh1,500 (USD 15) in the United States but sells at Sh7,500( US$ 75) in Mozambique and even more in Kenya.

Murichu explains that these multinationals use developing nations to maximise their profits as in their territories there is an even health insurance policy and drugs prices are Government-controlled.

“But here, we buy drugs from our own pocket. We have no comprehensive insurance and no price control. And it is even worse because these multinationals collude with doctors to prescribe specifically these expensive medicine,” says Murichu.

That is why Murichu and his colleagues took advantage of parallel importation that is commonly practised by all other traders and anchored in the World Trade Organisation provision as well as in the Kenyan laws.

“It is in the law that a seller ceases to have rights to the product on first sale. Whoever buys can decide to do anything with it, so for us we buy from wholesalers who have bought from the manufacturers and then sell them back home at a cheaper price,” says Murichu.

It is like buying a car. If you buy new Toyota Land Cruiser from a registered dealer in the country, it will cost you some Sh13 million but when you buy it from Dubai or Japan, it will be about Sh10 million or less.

It is the same reason, he explains, why Kenyans buy goods from Uganda because of their fair tax regimes yet the quality is the same.

“When you buy a drug from a registered agent, the price has factored the dollar fluctuation, service fee, profit, and expense (labour, power, as well as tax),” he explains.

Parallel importation

Through parallel importation, Murichu says a pharmacist can import just one drug for you, unlike agents who import drugs for profit volumes.

“A manufacturer can have 2,000 varieties but an agent deals with just 50 because the others are not that ‘marketable’.

“What if he runs out of stock or his goods get held up at the port or he goes bankrupt? Should people die because someone has put money ahead of people’s lives?” he poses.

He argues that the most affected of individuals are actually those who travel abroad for specialised care then they come back with prescribed medicine that is not easily available in the market. Averagely, some 10,000 Kenyans spend Sh11 billion annually on cancer treatment mainly in India, Dubai and South Africa.

These are the same countries that KPDA noted have embraced parallel importation despite the fight from multinationals.

But in his fight, multinationals have found a way to bring down Murichu and his team.

For example, patent life (period when the drug manufacturer owns the sole rights of the drug for profit purposes) has been increased from seven to 20 years.

“And now they come up with new brands of the same drug then claim the earlier one is a counterfeit (which increases patent life of the same drug but just under a different name) yet they have just changed packaging and name, which affects the pricing too,” says Murichu.

Increasing patent period also means that generic medicine (not manufactured by the original manufacturer) will reduce in the market yet they are also cheaper compared to original.

His fight is what has made it possible for HIV patients to access cheaper anti-retroviral medicine.

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