Drug prices soar amid COVID-19

Authorities turn a blind eye

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 23:51, Sep 21,2020


Prices of medicines, especially those used to treat allergy, sneezing, coughing and respiratory problems, have increased amid the COVID-19 crisis as the authorities are turning a blind eye to the issue.

People suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases or COPD, asthma and allergy, who have to take medicine round the year, are hit hard by the soaring prices of the essentials.

Regulatory authorities and pharmaceutical firm owners claimed that medicine prices had not been increased since the coronavirus emerged in the country, but consumer rights campaigners and patients alleged that people were buying same medicines at higher prices, compared to before the COVID-19 crisis. 

Visiting different drug stores in the capital, it was found that the prices of medicines, used for asthma, allergy, sneezing, coughing and respiratory problems, likes of Montelukast, Theophylline, Doxophylline, Fexofenadine, Rupatadine and Desloratadine increased.

Even the price of ivermectin, used for treating many types of parasite infestations and which scientists found prospective for treating COVID-19, also  increased two to three times in recent days.  

Patients alleged that they were paying higher prices for such medicines after the coronavirus emerged.

Drug sellers said that the medicines had high demand but the supply was low, which heated up the market. 

A Khilgaon resident, who said that she used to take Montelukast and Theophylline every day due to her asthma, usually bought a Montelukast at Tk 10-12 before the coronavirus, but she now had to pay Tk 16 per piece.

A Fexofenadine Hydrochloride was usually sold at Tk 5-6, but the price has gone up to Tk 8-10 recently.

‘Fexofenadine Hydrochloride is now a hot cake as it cures allergic rhinitis or sneezing. People stockpiled the medicine after the coronavirus hit the country. It is now in short supply, which has caused the price hike,’ said a drug seller in Khilgaon. 

The price of Rupatadine Fumarate, which is indicated for the symptomatic treatment of seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis and urticaria, has increased in recent days.

A piece of the drug earlier cost about Tk 8-10, but it is now selling for up to Tk 12 in the capital’s drug stores.

Ivermectin, treating parasitic infection, used to cost Tk 4-10 depending on the dosage. One of the leading pharmaceutical companies of the country put off its production in 2014.

The company sold the drug at Tk 4, but when it has recently restarted its production after scientists found a hope in its use for treating COVID-19 it now sells each piece of the drug at Tk 15 for 6mg and Tk 30 for 12mg.

Other companies also increased the drug’s price to Tk 10-15 for 6mg and Tk 20-30 for 12mg.

Drug Administration spokesperson Ayub Hossain said that no company was allowed to increase the prices of medicines after the coronavirus emerged.

‘If any company has increased prices without our permission, they will be punished under the Drug Act,’ he said.

Replying to a question, he said that they would look into the allegations of increasing medicine prices.

Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries secretary general SM Shafiuzzaman also said that they did not increase the price of any medicine after the coronavirus emerged.

‘The production and supply of medicines are also aplenty,’ he said, adding, ‘We have nothing to do if the prices are raised by the retailers.’

Consumers Association of Bangladesh president Ghulam Rahman said that they found sharp rises in prices of medicines in recent days.

‘The unscrupulous businesses are cashing in on the coronavirus crisis when people have been hit hard economically,’ he said.

Ghulam Rahman said that it was the responsibility of the regulators to monitor the market.

‘The Drug Administration and the Directorate of National Consumers’ Right Protection should act proactively to check the rises in prices of drugs,’ he said.

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