Although the topic of drug mafia in Sri Lanka surfaces from time to time, certain forces that are attempting to cover it up are extremely powerful. This note is about one aspect of this issue; it is about those who rob poor patients and those who back perpetrators.
Trastuzumab, a drug used to treat breast cancer, is manufactured by a multi-national company named Roche. It is distributed in Sri Lanka by Baur company. A dose of this drug costs Rs 280,000. The Ministry of Health had been using this drug for some time.
But a similar Russian-manufactured drug, which costs Rs 144,000, is also available in the market. Therefore, the Ministry of Health decided to stop using the drug in question manufactured by Roche, and use the Russian-manufactured drug instead.
A group of doctors opposed the ministry’s move claiming that the inexpensive Russian-manufactured drug is of low quality. Sri Lanka College of Oncologists went on to launch a protest as well. The aforementioned doctors filed a court case but they lost it. Then they sought the assistance of the Court of Appeal, however, they lost again. They went on to file a petition before the Supreme Court, but eventually, they withdrew it.
Why did these doctors strongly oppose this drug? The reason is that when a medical specialist prescribes the drug manufactured by Roche, which costs Rs 280,000, the doctor receives Rs 100,000 commission from the company. The company had also paid a sum of Rs 50,000 to a junior doctor who prescribes this drug. Accordingly, when a patient uses 10 doses of this drug, a medical specialist and a junior doctor receives Rs 1,000,000 and Rs 500,000, respectively.
Doctors who rake in millions in commission
The amount of money raked in by doctors by prescribing this drug, and the profit made by the company in question to be able to pay doctors large amounts of money, is astronomical. This is the true nature of the drug mafia and it targets poor patients.
Switzerland-based Roche had an office in Sri Lanka as they made millions of profits with the support of doctors. It is said that this company earns USD 42 billion annually world-wide by selling this drug. A considerable portion of that money comes from selling over-priced drugs to third world countries like Sri Lanka.
After the Ministry of Health decided to start using the Russian-manufactured drug, while the doctors’ protest was still continuing, Roche decreased this drug’s price from Rs 280,000 to Rs 165,000. However, since there was a growing demand for the Russian-manufactured drug, eventually, Roche closed down their office in Sri Lanka.
Padeniya’s role and Norway tour
All aforementioned protests carried out against the inexpensive Russian-manufactured drug were spearheaded by Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya. Roche gave all-expenses-paid trips to Norway to 14 doctors who led the protests in return for their support. After it was exposed, doctors said these Norway tours were personal trips. What’s more, Dr. Padeniya went to the recently appointed Presidential Commission of Inquiry to complain about this matter.
Drug mafia in SPC
Meanwhile, an Indian-manufactured, US Food and Drug Administrative (FDA)-approved, drug was also released to the market at a price of Rs 47,000.
However, Roche didn’t stop its businesses in Sri Lanka; it went on to introduce another drug named Pertuzumab. National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Chairman Prof. Asitha De Silva identifies this as Baurs introducing Trastuzumab with minor modifications. This new drug is priced at Rs 550,000.
Despite its astronomical price, the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) had purchased Pertuzumab spending over Rs 100 million, and it clearly shows that drug traffickers are active in the SPC as well. Although we tried to contact SPC Chairman Dr. Rumi, we weren’t able to contact him.
Investigations are underway to find out how the SPC purchased Pertuzumab, disregarding the fact that it hasn’t been approved by the NMRA.
Sri Lanka’s society considers medicine a noble profession that aims at saving the lives of the people. However, in that profession also, there are a number of rackets that take patients hostage. Some doctors, with a tie and a stethoscope, cover up these disgraceful businesses.
Hippocrates is considered the father of medicine, and technically, doctors are expected to act like his children. But some doctors in Sri Lanka have become Satan’s children. However, there are still many doctors who genuinely want to serve the public.