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Regulatory changes could slash drug prices

Patients could soon be paying up to a fifth less for their medicines, a senior health official said yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Patients could soon be paying up to a fifth less for their medicines, a senior health official said yesterday. Medicines in the UAE are some of the most expensive in the region and efforts to reduce prices are often hampered by a reliance on brand-name drugs rather than their cheaper generic alternatives. Dr Mohammed Abuelkhair, the chief of medical regulation at Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (HAAD), helped draw up a set of recommendations to tackle the issue. Speaking on the closing day of the first Middle East Generic Medicine conference yesterday, he said insurers, regulators, pharmacies and patients needed to be strongly encouraged to use generic drugs.

"We need more education, certainly," he said. "We know medicines are expensive and I think the prices could be reduced by maybe 20 per cent if the recommendations come into effect, which is highly likely." He said pharmacists needed the right incentive to dispense generic drugs. The national insurance company Daman, he said, is considering changing its repayment structure to favour those who do so.

"This would make a very big difference," Mr Abuelkhair said. "If Daman usually pays out 90 per cent of a drug's cost to a pharmacy, this figure could go up if the pharmacy is giving out cheaper medicines. Long-term they will be better off. It is an incentive for them to change their practices." The Ministry of Health is responsible for setting import and counter prices for distributors and pharmacies. Previously it has blamed high prices on the small UAE market and the reluctance of international firms to negotiate import prices. According to health care advisers at PricewaterhouseCoopers, based in Dubai, there is evidence that "manufacturers can afford to sell generics at a much lower price than the current regulated price".

Dr Abuelkhair said a committee would work on a list of changes for HAAD to implement in the coming months. munderwood@thenational.ae

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