Generic meds could save SA millions

Author: Zinhle Mapumulo

Source: City Press

The word ‘generic’ may seem less appealing than the phrase “original brand”. However, if you’re ill, choosing generic medication over the original will save you money.

South Africans often prefer branded medicine over generics, but the latest research from Mediscor shows that this is slowly changing, albeit not quickly enough.

The research shows that last year about one in five prescriptions for patients who belonged to a medical aid favoured branded medication, although generic equivalents were available – this is costing the South African economy billions of rands a year.

Branded medication

Erik Roos, the chief executive of Pharma Dynamics, one of the leading generic medicine producers in South Africa, says the company estimates that the country could save millions by substituting branded medication with generics in the treatment of patients who suffer from hypertension.

The Human Sciences Research Council of SA estimates that more than 6 million people suffer from high blood pressure in this country.

“Generic hypertension medication is, on average, 44% cheaper than branded medication, while a further 79% can be shaven off the price of branded antidepressants if a generic alternative is used,” said Roos.

“Failing to substitute with a generic means that many patients are paying more than R350 for a product that could be costing them in the region of R75.”

According to the Mediscor research, the use of generics has steadily risen to 56.3% in the past five years, with HIV and cancer treatments injecting the major boost. More than 90% of HIV-positive people on treatment are taking generic antiretroviral drugs and 86% of cancer patients also use generics.

Generics contain the same amount of active pharmaceutical ingredients found in the originators – the only difference is that they cost a fraction of the original brand.

The reason generic manufacturers sell medication at a lower cost is because of the increased competition among manufacturers who don’t have to go through the expensive research and development phase that brand companies have already gone through.

Vivian Frittelli, the chief executive of the National Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, which represents generic manufacturers in South Africa, says the steady increase in generic medication use is a step in the right direction.

“The fact that a greater number of consumers are choosing generics over more costly branded equivalents bodes well for both health insurers and government, which has publicly supported the use of generics as a step towards affordable and accessible healthcare for South Africans. But it’s not enough because, if more people started using generics, South Africa could save millions a year,” said Frittelli.

“This money could be used for something else. More importantly, it could result in affordable medical aid schemes.”

Roos agreed, and said more needed to be done to educate doctors and patients about the benefits of generics.

High price tag

Frittelli said: “Generics are subject to the same rigorous registration process as branded medicines, but are substantially less costly.”

Roos said doctors had a major role to play in debunking the myth that generics were less effective.

“By adopting a more generic prescription-based model, healthcare practitioners could see medicine expenditure drop significantly, while providing patients with effective and affordable medication. Doctors should consider patients’ long-term adherence to essential treatments.

“This could be significantly enhanced when a generic is prescribed because brand-name medicine is likely to go uncollected because of the high price tag. The price differential between originators and generics is now as much as 80%,” Roos said.