Drug policy: SC seeks clarification from Minister

The Supreme Court on Friday gave the Health Ministry time till October 15 to tell court as to what was happening to the draft legislation for a national medicinal drugs policy and when a Bill to this effect would be presented in Parliament.

This order was given in response to two fundamental rights petitions filed by the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) and Janaka Bibile, grandson of the late revered Prof. Senaka Bibile whose essential medicines concept was hailed by the World Health Organisation and is being implemented in more than 100 countries.

The PMRP and Mr. Bibile say that by unduly delaying this legislation, the Minister, the Ministry Secretary and the Director General of Health Services were denying the people their fundamental right to obtain quality drugs at affordable prices.

According to the petition, a comprehensive draft for a national medicinal drugs policy was presented to the minister in July 2005 after four days of consultations among all stakeholders.

These consultations were facilitated by the WHO’s South Asian drug policy advisor Professor Krisantha Weerasooriya who was invited by the ministry for this task.

The comprehensive draft was handed over to Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva in July 2005 and Cabinet approval was given for it in October 2005. The minister then appointed an 18-member national standing committee to draft a legislation in consultation with the Legal Draftsman’s Department.

The PMRP and Mr. Bibile said that, despite several public assurances by the minister, the legislation would be presented soon, the ‘soon’ had yet not come.

They said that the legislation, while providing quality drugs at affordable prices would also enable the country to save millions of dollars in foreign exchange by stopping the import of thousands of non-essential drugs marketed under different brand names.

Counsel representing the Attorney General’s Department objected to the petition on the basis they had named only the minister and two top ministry officials as respondents. Counsel said NSC members also were responsible for any delay and they also should be named as respondents.

The Supreme Court then gave the State time till October 15 to inform court as to what was happening to the legislation.

The SC Bench comprised Chief Justice Asoka de Silva, Justices Chandra Ekanayake and K. Sripavan. Senior Attorney Krishmal Warnasooriya appeared for the PMRP and Mr. Bibile.

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