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Home / Health & Science

Generic drug prescriptions reduce cost of healthcare for patients

Health & ScienceBy Vinod Bharatan | Sun,Mar 17 2019 00:00:00 UTC | 3 min read

Opting for a generic drug can give you the same benefits as branded medicines – but at a considerably lower cost. 

It is no secret that Kenyan consumers are paying over the odds for prescription drugs. Now people are increasingly turning to generics to try to reduce their monthly bill for medication. But what are they and do they suit everyone?

When a new drug is produced, it is protected by its patent for a certain number of years. This protection allows the pharmaceutical company to recoup its costs and make a profit. Once this ceases, any drug manufacturer can produce their own equivalent, which is typically sold at a significantly lower price, given that this manufacturer has not incurred all the costs associated with developing and creating the drug. These are known as generics.

The major pharmaceutical companies have now started to offer their own generics to forestall the threat to their market share.

Health financiers are now encouraging doctors and pharmacists to substitute a brand name drug for its generic equivalent, provided that it is included on a list published by the Ministry of Health. For example, if you take a branded medication that has been approved for generic substitution, your doctor or pharmacist will automatically make the switch. Doing so will eventually reduce the cost to the patient.

However, the only time a pharmacist can offer you a branded drug is if the doctor writes “do not substitute” on the prescription.

Existing scheme

The law is very clear that the prescribing doctor must do it in their own handwriting where it is deemed there is a clinical exemption. This means that in certain circumstances – such as those outlined below – a patient can continue to use the branded medication under their existing scheme.

If, however, they opt to stick with the branded drug simply because they are familiar with it and fear change, they may have to pay the difference themselves.

But are generics always equivalent? Typically, there is no risk to a patient in switching from a brand name drug to its generic equivalent. However, there may be exceptions.

Although generic drugs have the same active ingredient as branded drugs, they are composed differently. This means that they may have different bioavailability from either the branded drug or, indeed, other generic drugs of the same class. Typically, this will not affect the patient in terms of efficacy and safety, but in drugs with a narrow therapeutic index, this could potentially lead to adverse effects.

It is therefore important to use generic drugs as substitutes only if they have been shown to have similar bioavailability to the branded drug and have been approved for use in Kenya.

Prescribers need to be cognizant of theoretical changes in therapeutic efficacy and look for any changes.  For example, the colour of the tablet may change which can lead to confusion and may lead to poor compliance.

Prescribers should again ensure patients are aware and understand the changes being made to their medication. In any case, if you are in doubt about the suitability of generic medication, check with your doctor or whoever prescribes your medication for reassurance, or call into your local pharmacist.

Generic alternatives to many drugs should be available in your local pharmacy so you can always ask for the substitution for any medication you may be taking. If the drug is still under patent, the generic will not be available, or it may turn out to be unsuitable for your needs. But it’s still worth asking about.

-The writer is the Chief Executive Officer, APA Insurance.

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