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Medicine helpline in need of help

by satish
September 10th, 2007

A consumer helpline that needs help! That seems to be the case with the consumer helpline for medicines launched in October last year with much fanfare. Announced as an initiative for the “common man” by Union minister for the chemicals Ram Vilas Paswan, whose ministry controls pharmaceutical prices, the ‘medicine price helpline’ was supposed to provide information on essential drugs if a consumer called up a phone number 95124-39898080 (in Delhi) or 0124-39898080 (any where in the country). The 24×7 medicine at the initiative of the ministry of NGO, Consumer Voice, to answer queries related to the MRP (maximum retail price) of medicines, so that a uniform price is charged for a particular across the country.

The helpline was also setup to give information to consumers on availability and exact price of the medicines sold by chemist stores in the market, and to prevent them from being overcharged, particularly for people residing in small towns and villages. The objective was to dispel the confusion on prices of medicines, as some medicine packs have ‘MRP plus taxes’ printed on them. This may provide retailers a chance to mislead the consumer, and charge a higher price then what was printed on the medicine pack. Besides, there were ambitious plans for the helpline, to extend its scope to an advisory role of informing people how to take a prescribed medicine, for instance, before or after meals.

Confirming that the helpline does not work, Bejon Misra, CEO of Consumer Voice said, “We have now submitted a proposal to the dug regulator National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority to make the helpline functional. It needs funds for sustenance.”

“We need to flag off overcharging cases of medicines and need to spread awareness so that consumers’ problems with regard to medicines are solved,” a senior ministry official added. So if one were to call up the helpline (as we did), the person at the other end tells you to send an email to drug regulator, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, if you are seeking the price of the medicine. In certain cases, when drug prices are revised downwards by regulator, it may take a few months for the change to different prices being charged from people in different states.

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