ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Essential Cancer Drugs

There are no public procurement programmes for cancer on the lines of those that exist for AIDS or tuberculosis. It is worth considering whether it is feasible to institute a drug procurement programme based on international/national competitive bidding or shopping, like those already in place in the National AIDS Control Organisation. If patients in developed countries are finding it difficult to survive the astronomical prices of cancer drugs, a developing country like India, with a large part of its population below the poverty line or among the middle class, is even worse affected in the battle against the disease.

The move to bring about some changes to the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) has been much in discussion at the Indian price regulator’s office, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA). The recommendation has now been approved by the authority and found its way to the Department of Pharmaceuticals earlier in March 2015. The suggested changes include addition of 12 cancer drugs and deletion of three medications which are believed to be not in much use for cancer treatment in India. This recommendation, if accepted, will automatically bring all these drugs under price control. While it is not the first time that cytotoxic drugs are being considered for inclusion in the NLEM, there seem to be two things about this issue that need greater clarity. One is the involvement of the price regulatory body rather than the health ministry in a matter that concerns identification of medicines essential for the Indian population, and the other revolves around understanding the need for price control at all in the case of cancer drugs.

Essentiality of Cancer

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