The one-day survey was conducted by Health Action International (HAI) — an independent global network working to increase access to medicines — across 93 countries on November 30 last year.
The Dutch Non-Government Organisation with over 200 members from 70 countries surveyed the ‘one-day price’ of a common antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, off patent for more than five years now and available in several generic versions worldwide.
On the day of the survey, a seven-day course of the originator drug was available in the UAE for $48.59 (Dh178), while the lowest priced generic version was available for only $12.77 (Dh46.90).
The survey also found that consumers in the Eastern Mediterranean region paid 10.6 times more on average for ciprofloxacin, an antibacterial used to treat common infections. The usual adult administration, at two doses daily, can extend from a week to 14 days.
Regionally, the average price for the brand ($36.47 or Dh134) was almost twice the price in Southeast Asia ($17.46 or Dh64) but less than in other regions.
For lowest priced generics, the regional price ($7.61 or Dh28) was more than in Southeast Asia ($1.19 or Dh4.3), Africa ($4.55 or Dh16) and West Pacific ($7.23 or Dh26).
“Governments need to further examine access to affordable essential medicines in their country and give it the priority it deserves,” said Dr Hussein A. Gezairy, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Being sick is enough of a misfortune,” he added. “Obtaining medicines should never result in choices between impoverishment, going without treatment, or buying only a partial course.”
Health authorities in the country said they were formulating policies to ensure that doctors prescribed generic drugs based on the reasoning that it provided optimum therapeutic benefit to patients in a manner that was equally cost-effective.
“We issued a policy in June 2009, in which doctors and pharmacists were both asked to prescribe and dispense generic drugs whenever appropriate,” said Dr Mohammed Abuelkhair, Section Head, Drugs and Medical Products Regulation, Health Authority of Abu Dhabi, the only emirate to participate in the HAI survey.
Dr Abuelkhair said that the authority was studying the impact of policies and educating pharmacists on the importance of dispensing generic drugs. “We believe in this policy,” he said. “We know that this way medicines can reach every sector of the population.”
However, some pharmacists believe that that preference for generic drugs may mean compromising on quality. “We can only dispense a generic drug if the company producing it is reliable,” said Dr Ali Al Syed Hussain, a Dubai-based pharmacist. “And there are several companies out there producing generic medicines.”
“Quality is important and if the companies producing the drug or the government can assure us that generic medicine is safe, we can dispense it,” said Dr Hussain.
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