In reference to your article "Pfizer to pull out of Kenya" (DN, September 6), I would like to assure your writer that generic drugs are not synonymous with fake drugs or drugs of substandard quality, though these also exist.
The high price of branded products may serve as an incentive for unscrupulous people to produce fake products.
A generic drug is interchangeable with the original product. The difference between a generic and the original is that generics are no longer covered by patents. Therefore, several manufacturers can produce them and the competition will significantly reduce the price.
In certain European countries and parts of the US, generic substitution is normal practice. For example, in certain states, pharmacists must issue a generic drug unless the doctor states otherwise.
To remain in competition with the generics, big brand companies often produce generic drugs, sometimes in the same factory. In France, the five largest generics producers are part of the big brand companies.
Patents create market monopolies and keep prices high because the producer, free from competition, charges whatever he likes. When generic drugs exist, there is market competition and prices come down.
Generic competition is one of the most effective proven ways policy-makers have to lower prices sustainably. In Brazil, the price of Aids drugs fell by 82 per cent over five years as a result of generic competition and 100,000 people are on Aids therapy.
African governments now have access to Aids triple therapy at 10 per cent of the original price a year ago - a direct result of generic competition and public pressure.
In Kenya, the Pfizer-manufactured drug flucanozole for cryptococcal meningitis has a wholesale price of $6.36 a capsule. Generics of the same quality are available outside Kenya for only $0.2.
We agree that there is a need for regulatory mechanisms for drug production and marketing to ensure effectiveness, safety and quality. However, fake drugs exist and are sold irrespective of the presence of local or international manufacturers or regulatory bodies. It is government responsibility to ensure quality drugs.
Pfizer has decided to close office in Kenya. This does not mean it will withdraw its drugs from the market. It is more profitable for big brand companies to sell products via a local source.
Medecins Sans Frontieres,