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Medicine at high cost

Consumer Council Of Fiji
Saturday, December 02, 2017

WHEN it comes to sticking to the budget while buying goods, consumers are able to sacrifice some goods which they do not necessarily need at that point in time. However, the same cannot be said when it comes to buying medication.

There are certain medication that are not supplied by the government hospitals. Hence, the consumers do not have much option but to resort to private pharmacies for their prescribed medication.

Unfortunately, purchasing medication is no longer a cheap deal for consumers, particularly, when opting for drugs, which are not under price control.

The Consumer Council of Fiji has over the past few months come across cases where consumers have been sold non-price controlled medication with exorbitant markup rates. In some cases, consumers purchased medication at exceptionally high rates due to there being only one supplier in the market.

Below are some cases dealt with by the council:

Case study 1

Jonathan who suffered from hypertension was prescribed Coversyl Plus. He visited a pharmacy located in Amy Street, Suva. He produced his prescription following which the pharmacy attendant informed him that the medication came at a cost of $69.50. Jonathan purchased the Coversyl Plus assuming that was the usual price of the tablets.

After a few weeks, Jonathan travelled to West and he wished to purchase the same medication from a pharmacy in the West using his prescription. Surprisingly, he was offered the medication at the price of $14.50.

Astonished with the high mark-up of the particular medicine in the Central Division, he lodged his complaint with the council to ascertain why the mark-up of the medicine was so high.

The council carried out a survey, which, clearly indicated that most pharmacies in Fiji were charging more than 80 per cent mark up on the said medication.

The explanation for the high price claimed by most of the pharmacies was because of the landing cost of the medication.

However, after the council's intervention, the pharmacy reduced its price for the Coversyl Plus from $69.50 to $35.00. Given that the price of the medication is not regulated, the onus is on the consumers to act responsibly by comparing the prices offered on the prescribed medicine and purchase it at a reasonable rate.

Case study 2

Nathan who is 54 years old often visits the eye centre for treatment of his eyes which causes blurry vision because of diabetes. In June 2017, Nathan was advised to purchase Avastin, a drug used for treatment of eye related diseases. The medication which is solely retailed by a prominent pharmacy in Suva is sold at a whopping cost of $225. Nathan had no option but to purchase the medication, which was required for his treatment. However, the medication needed to be stored between 2 - 8 degrees Celsius. Thus, Nathan left it at the pharmacy to be picked up during his next clinic date.

Unfortunately, Nathan's clinic date got shifted to a much later date. As such, he called the pharmacy to inform them of the date change, as he could not travel from Nausori to inform them. Nevertheless, on his next clinic date, which was almost after two months, the doctor informed Nathan that he no longer required the Avastin drug and that he would be given laser treatment instead. Troubled that the medication had already been paid for, Nathan asked the doctor to give it to him in writing that he no longer required the medication so that he could seek a refund from the pharmacy.

However, at the pharmacy he was informed that the medication had already expired, as it had a short term expiry date.

The pharmacy denied any redress and was quick to claim that the medication was expired and it was Nathan's responsibility to pick it up on time. This was a sheer waste of $225 for Nathan. He then sought the council's assistance on the matter. The council wrote to the pharmacy informing them of the irresponsible behaviour shown towards the product that was kept aside. They failed to inform Nathan that the medication, which was already paid for was nearing expiry.

The medication was in the pharmacy's custody for more than 50 days, yet they outright denied any responsibility towards it.

They were further informed that being the sole retailer of that particular medication, they could have avoided such a situation through better communication or by simply not taking responsibility for storage in the first place.

Whilst the Avastin drug is on the Essential Medicine List of the World Health Organization (WHO), it is not on the list of essential medication in Fiji.

With only one supplier in the market, consumers have to fork out considerable amount of money to purchase the drug. Hence, consumers are advised to keep track of their clinic dates, unforeseen changes in the date and not to engage in purchase of medications in advance as some medications with high costs attached come with short term expiry.

Consumers are advised to seek the council's assistance and/or lodge complaints on the National Consumer Helpline 155 if they are facing similar situations as Nathan and Jonathan.

* This is a regular contribution from the Consumer Council of Fiji. Email: mediaofficer@consumersfiji.org for feedback.








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