BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Medication costs to be slashed by a quarter

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour gestures during a press conference in Beirut, Thursday, March 27, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The cost of local and imported medicine is set to be reduced by 20-30 percent after the Health Ministry announced a drastic reduction in the cost of 629 generic drugs Thursday.

“I know that medical companies won’t like this new law because it will lower their income, but we are with the citizens against the companies,” Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said at a news conference attended by representatives from the Doctors and Dentists syndicates.

Abu Faour said he signed a memorandum on March 4 relating to Resolution 728/1, which states that drug pricing should be transparent, stipulating the cost reduction. At the news conference at the Health Ministry, Abu Faour also said a new law lowering the general price of medicine would be passed in the future.

Companies have until April 15 to put the changes into effect, and Abu Faour said the ministry would be following up to ensure they were following the regulations.

Drug prices in Lebanon are decided by the Health Ministry and the relevant manufacturer.

“I hope nobody thinks that the government will meet once and then forget about [lowering prices] just because the government’s time is short,” Abu Faour said.

According to the Constitution, the government will be considered resigned when President Michel Sleiman’s term expires on May 25.

Seated next to Future MP Atef Majdalani, who is also the head of Parliament’s Health Committee, Abu Faour said the reduced medicine prices would be detailed on the ministry’s website, adding that a hotline would also be created.

Majdalani said the Health Committee was in constant negotiations with the ministry “so citizens can get the best medicines for the lowest prices.”

Lebanon’s drug prices have been criticized in the past for being expensive compared to the global market. Last month, reports emerged claiming that a vital cancer drug cost about twice as much in Lebanon as in the U.S. The price of cancer medications are set to be reduced under Abu Faour’s initiative.

Abu Faour said he would also reduce the cost of drugs for sensory processing, gastrointestinal, cardiac, neurological, dermatological, hormonal, anti-fungal, respiratory, and muscle and bone problems, as well as antibiotics.

The health minister also set a meeting for next Tuesday to address recent concerns over the discovery of a fungicide in labneh from at least two Lebanese factories, Dairy Khoury and Dairy Day.

Natamycin, also called pimaricin, is a naturally occurring fungicide produced during fermentation by bacteria found in soil. While it is used in Europe to treat the surface of certain dairy products, Lebanon prohibits the use of any additional chemicals in labneh apart from ascorbic acid.

Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan sent a warning to dairy factory owners Monday, vowing that they would be closed down if they failed to meet the required standards.

However, Abu Faour said Thursday that the Health Ministry was still unsure whether natamycin was harmful or not. According to the EU-funded European Food Safety Authority, “a clinical study in humans performed in 1960 showed that natamycin, used for systemic mycoses, induced nausea, vomiting and diarrhea,” but the Scientific Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food, a group of European risk assessment experts, said the study was “too limited.”

“The panel considered that the proposed use levels of natamycin are not of safety concern if it is only used for the surface treatment of the rind of semi-hard and semi-soft cheese and on the casings of certain sausages,” it said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

The cost of local and imported medicine is set to be reduced by 20-30 percent after the Health Ministry announced a drastic reduction in the cost of 629 generic drugs Thursday.

Abu Faour said he signed a memorandum on March 4 relating to Resolution 728/1, which states that drug pricing should be transparent, stipulating the cost reduction. At the news conference at the Health Ministry, Abu Faour also said a new law lowering the general price of medicine would be passed in the future.

However, Abu Faour said Thursday that the Health Ministry was still unsure whether natamycin was harmful or not.


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