A timely move | Daily News

A timely move

The decision taken by the Government to impose strict price controls on certain essential drugs is the right move considering the threat posed to persons who are on regular medication who are now dealt with a double whammy at a time the prices of almost all other items too had hit the sky. State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana last week announced an imposition of a price ceiling on some 60 varieties of medicinal drugs in what amounts to an indirect admission that drug prices have hit the ceiling. The prices of certain drugs prescribed for diabetes and high blood pressure had doubled and certain pharmacies were laying down their own prices, aggravating the situation.

It need not be stressed that a vast majority of those who depend on drugs for their survival are retirees and senior citizens who have no choice but continue to remain on drugs for their entire lifetime as are even those who are young and afflicted by NCDs such as diabetes. In the case of the young the problem could be mitigated through regular exercises and other physical activities, but not so the old and the feeble for whom the sole saviour is their quota of drugs. Hence it is a question of life and death for these hapless folk among whom are Government pensioners who had given the best years of their lives in the service to the State.

In fact these men and women who are in the evening of their lives have been delivered another blow in the form of the slashing of the interest of their bank deposits by as much as 50 percent worsening their predicament. Not all of these folk are dependent on their offspring with some of them having to fend for themselves. With the diminution of their income coming on top of the soaring Cost of Living, it is one huge battle for survival for these hapless denizens. The Government has seized on the seriousness of the situation and taken this measure to tide over the immediate threat by providing them with some form of lifeline though their collective plight is far from over with the ever rising prices of essential consumer goods.

Hence the Government ought to extend this relief to other areas too so that our senior citizens and retirees will be able to keep body and soul intact. Designated trade centres should be reserved for Government pensioners and senior citizens where they will be able to purchase a prescribed set of goods at subsidized prices, including medicinal drugs. In fact former Central Bank Governor W.D. Lakshman too spoke of the injustice done to the senior citizens by Banks slashing their interest rates and called for alternative measures to cushion the blow.

Of course Banks would hardly feel the pinch by loosening their collective purse strings. The business pages of newspapers these days are full of boastful proclamations of this bank or that bank recording record profits and declaring fat dividends to shareholders. We also see stories of banks coming out to sponsor sports persons with fat cheques and also undertaking to finance services or development projects. Our senior citizens deserve better treatment than having to see their meagre earning drastically contracted due to the actions of the banks.

True, the commercial banks are obliged to follow Central Bank guidelines as regards interest rates. This follows the collapse of several finance companies recently due to their offering higher interest rates to customers, which risks precipitating a run on deposits in the commercial banks with disastrous consequences. This is why the Government’s intervention is called for some sort of arrangement that would make life easier for our senior citizens.

The Government should also look for urgent solutions to alleviate the present plight of the public at large grappling with soaring prices of essential consumer items. The problem has become aggravated due to the loss of income by large segments resulting from the loss of business, closure of workplaces and a general paralysis of the economy. The problem is so grave that a senior Minister admitted that there needs to be more than one breadwinner in the family if one were to at least stay afloat while another Government politician even urged the people to skip one meal, which, no doubt, is a reflection of the state of affairs. The US Dollar crisis has been attributed to the serious economic recession the country is placed in, where it is unable to pay for imports even of essential goods. How then it may be asked that dollars are available to import apples, grapes, oranges, cheese and chocolates to the country at a time when all non-essential imports have been banned by the Government? Prudence should be exercised by all concerned at this time of a grave crisis which the country is placed in as conceded even by top Government Ministers during live television interviews. A joint effort is called for shedding all parochial differences if the country is to wriggle out from the present unprecedented crisis.

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