Can generic medicines help Pakistan’s poor?
Generic drugs, an alternative to brand-name drugs, are formulations that are sold under their original chemical name. Since manufacturers of generic drugs do not spend on the research and development for the drug, these are very economical compared to their brand-name counterparts.
A lot of debate has been going on about the pros and cons of using generic drugs and much emphasis has been put on the cost and quality of these drugs. Switching from brand-name to generic drugs seems a very attractive idea when it comes to cost effectiveness.
However, the use of generic drugs is not without controversy. Due to their low cost, patients develop concerns about the quality and effectiveness of these drugs. This negative perception is mainly what contributes to the lower popularity of these drugs. For this very reason, doctors may avoid generic prescriptions, especially of life saving drugs and drugs having a narrow therapeutic index. In developed countries which usually have socialized healthcare system or an extensive insurance system, cost is not a big issue. Therefore, preference of brand-name drugs over generic drugs can be justified.
In poor countries, most medical expenses are usually paid out of the patient’s own pocket. Many patients are deprived of proper treatment simply due to unaffordable medical bills. While prescribing drugs, physicians should not only consider the medical condition being treated, but also the social and financial situation of the patient. Since generic drugs are a mere fraction of the cost of brand-name drugs, they present as an attractive alternative in low-income countries. Tailoring prescriptions to the patient’s financial conditions would substantially improve patient compliance, especially among those of a low socio-economic status.
Due to high prevalence of poverty in developing countries, doctors should give priority to generic drugs when prescribing medication. Patients should accordingly be counseled about the difference between generic and brand-name drugs to alleviate their concerns over the quality of these medicines. Most importantly, patients should be enabled to ask pharmacists and doctors for generic alternatives to the brand-name drugs being prescribed.
About the author: Tabish Aijaz is a graduate of Medicine (MBBS) from National University of Science in Technology, Pakistan. Currently he is working as a researcher at Department of Nephrology, University of Florida.