New Delhi–With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a law to ensure that doctors prescribe generic medicines, health experts have said that the new rule will be a boon for patients only if the generic medicines are of “good quality”.

Pointing out that a lot depends on the composition of the generic medicine, they stressed the need for a regulatory body to check the quality of generic medicines so that quality is not compromised even if the drug is priced at a much lower rate than equivalent branded medicines.

“Undoubtedly, this law will be a boon for poor patients in terms of medicines. Prescribing generic medicine is indeed very necessary. However, it is to be ensured that the salt in the generic medicine is similar to what a equivalent branded medicine has or else the purpose won’t get served,” A.K. Rai, Medical Superintendent and an ENT surgeon, told IANS.

Rai said a large chunk of patients deliberately opt for branded medicines, despite having its cheaper version available, considering it of poor efficacy.

A generic drug is identical — or bio-equivalent — to a brand name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use. Although generic drugs are chemically identical to their branded counterparts, they are typically sold at substantial discounts from the branded price.

Modi on Monday, while inaugurating a multi-specialty hospital in Gujarat, said the government will make legal arrangements to ensure that doctors prescribe generic medicines.

According to Rai, making all doctors prescribe generic medicines will also require a huge effort by the government as they will have to ensure that there is no compromise with the standards of generic medicines.

“The government needs to ensure that for generic medicines there is a proper regulatory body to check the quality. The salt and other composition in the medicines should not get compromised,” said Rai.

Rai said that making it a rule to prescribe generic medicine will benefit mostly the patients visiting the government hospitals.

Asked if private hospitals had any role in endorsing branded medicines among their patients, Rai said many of the private hospitals usually have both types of medicines in their pharmacies. However, it depends on the patients which one do they need.

Though there is no official data available in India, in the US, generic drugs save consumers an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion a year at retail pharmacies.

Renowned Oncologist and former Dean at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) P.K. Julka said patients in small towns and cities will benefit the most from the new law.

“Certainly, a very good step and will bring down the expenses of patients on medicines. People in small towns and cities will benefit the most,” Julka told IANS.

However, Julka — currently with Max Super Specialty Hospital — said that despite the announcement not every patient will look for generic medicine at pharmacies.

“At least 20-25 per cent of the patient deliberately look for branded medicines. So they certainly will opt for the branded ones but for the remaining 75-80 per cent prescribing generic medicine will be a boon,” said Julka.

Making medicines cheaper is a politically sensitive issue in India where many patented drugs are too costly for most people, and where patented drugs account for under 10 per cent of total drug sales.

India earlier also had schemes to provide generic drugs free of cost to economically weaker citizens from government hospitals.

The Medical Council of India (MCI) has already recommended that doctors prescribe generic drugs. (IANS)