x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Cheaper drugs are just part of the cure

A measure to keep medicine prices low is welcome news, but we must all be responsible for maintaining our good health.

Many people will welcome the announcement yesterday that the cost of 200 drugs have been slashed in the latest round of a campaign to make essential medicines more affordable. The medications, among 7,500 to be reduced in price over the past 30 months, include those to treat osteoporosis, heart conditions, lung cancer, hypertension, glaucoma, psoriasis, vascular diseases and kidney failure.

The campaign began after a comparison study showed that drugs in the UAE cost considerably more than in Lebanon, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and especially so for drugs used to treat chronic diseases. The Minister of Health, Abdul Rahman Al Owais, has rightly taken action, saying it is important for prices to be comparable across the region and promising that they will be regularly monitored.

Affordable access to medicines helps individual patients and makes for a healthier overall community by removing one of the potential barriers to seeking treatment. It is also in line with the government priorities outlined by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who tweeted that health care and education were the two issues discussed at a cabinet retreat last month.

Significantly, the latest round of cuts includes a 83 per cent reduction in the price of diabetes medicines, including amaryl, glustin and the insulin humalog. Given that the UAE is home to 745,940 diagnosed diabetics, many of whom rely on drugs to go about their daily lives, this is clearly good news. While price reductions in these medicines should be welcomed, it is important to note that, in the case of type 2 diabetes, prevention is a more cost-effective and healthier option than treatment.

In a 2010 study paper, the United Health Group estimated that, by 2020, 32 per cent of the adult UAE population could have diabetes or prediabetes, increasing medical costs for those conditions to Dh3.82 billion annually. Noting that 35 per cent of cases are undiagnosed, it said that “aggressive intervention”, including screening and lifestyle changes to tackle obesity, could help prevent type 2 diabetes altogether or reduce complications associated with the condition, including fatal kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness and limb amputations.

In short, if kept, those new year’s resolutions to eat healthier food, lose weight and have a thorough medical check-up could really save your life.