March 7 (Bloomberg) -- Greece wants to triple the share of generic drugs prescribed by the end of next year, closing the gap to targets set by international creditors under the terms of the country’s bailout, Health Minister Adonis Georgiades said.
The share of generics in the total volume of prescription drugs sold in Greece will rise to “at least” 30 percent by the end of 2014, compared with 19.8 percent at the end of last year, closer to a national target for a 60 percent share, Georgiades said in an interview in Athens yesterday. The minister said he would consider less than 30 percent at the end of 2014 a “failure” and that 60 percent goal will probably be reached by the end of 2015.
The share of copycat drugs sold in Greece is still very low compared to the European average of more than 70 percent, Georgiades said, adding that the government will cut the average treatment price gradually every six months, to allow local manufacturers to adapt to international competition.
Cuts in public spending on drugs is one of the conditions attached to Greece’s bailout, supported by 240 billion euros ($331 billion) in loans from the euro-area member states and the International Monetary Fund. The market for generic medicine in the country is about 500 million euros a year a number that will increase to about 750 million euros when Greece reaches the 60 percent mark, the minister said.
Georgiades said Greece has copycat drugs of “high quality,” dismissing concerns about drugs imported from developing countries and adding that targeted reductions to regulated prices won’t affect quality.
“We are talking about the same drugs used everywhere in Europe,” he said. “I haven’t heard of European patients suffering en masse from low-quality medication.”
Georgiades said he strongly opposes demands from international creditors to allow the sale of non-prescription drugs in supermarkets and the deregulation of pharmacies.
“The point is to land the plane, not crash it,” he said. Greece has about 11,500 pharmacies, when 6,000 would be sufficient for its needs, he said. At the same time, it has more specialized doctors and fewer general practitioners and nurses compared with other European Union member-states.
“An army full of generals, and few soldiers,” the minister said. “We know that this is not sustainable, but we don’t want to take measures that will lead half of the country’s pharmacies into bankruptcy. We should remember that unemployment in Greece is 28 percent.”
Georgiades said there aren’t vested interests in the health-care sector that enjoy government protection.
“In 2009, the size of the drugs market in Greece was 5.6 billion euros, and pharmacies were operating with a 30 percent profit margin,” he said. “Now, the market has shrunk to 2 billion euros with a 20 percent profit margin. We don’t offer special protection, we’re just giving the industry sufficient time to adapt in the new reality.”
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