In the US, as many as 90 per cent of prescription drugs are unbranded. In Germany and the UK, that figure is 80 and 78 per cent respectively. But a 2016 study by Anglo-Arabian Healthcare found that in one Abu Dhabi hospital, 95.6 per cent of all drugs prescribed were branded – a trend replicated throughout the market.
It hints at an anomaly in the UAE’s otherwise competitive healthcare system, which allows some pharmaceutical companies to maximise profits at the expense of patients.
Generic drugs can be just as effective as branded drugs but cost a fifth of the price. In a welcome move, Abu Dhabi healthcare facilities this weekend began dispensing more generic medicines. It is the latest in a package of economic reforms undertaken this year geared towards a diversification away from oil dependence and streamlining public services to be more cost-effective. T
here are clear benefits for all in offering cheaper medical alternatives to patients and healthcare providers and aligning the UAE’s health system.
Health insurance professionals have long called for doctors to prescribe more generic drugs. And while patients will see a noticeable difference, it is providers themselves who will benefit most. Experts say they could save Dh2.3 billion a year by prescribing effective non-brand pharmaceuticals – money that could be better spent elsewhere, because prescribing mostly branded drugs can lead to abuse and waste across the healthcare system.
As The National reported in 2016, some doctors in the UAE receive commissions from drug companies to prescribe branded products, which could incentivise them to prescribe more. There is no reason why prescription drugs should be taken if they are not needed while in the case of antibiotics, over-prescription can reduce their efficacy in the long-term.
If this policy is to be successful, a mindset change is required among those who assume that generic drugs are not as effective as branded pharmaceuticals. The Department of Health has given options for those who still prefer brands to pay the difference.
Meanwhile everyone else will pay less for medication, freeing up revenue to be reinvested in the UAE's evolving healthcare system.