Sunday, 6 March 2011

An unpublished reply to an editorial in the Times of Malta

In reply to the Editor of The Times of Malta

Dear Sir,

            I have always turned to your newspaper as a source of fair, balanced and well-researched information. It is thus with dismay that I read your editorial of the 1st day of this month, and it is with much chagrin that I pen this risposte. As a practicing pharmacist professional, pharmacy owner and also a researcher in the field of local medicine prices and the various factors influencing their levels, I take exception to the manner in which the subject has been addressed and also the manner in which all actors within the highly complex scenario have been caricatured.

            Firstly, your editorial states that ‘exorbitant prices’ are the norm, and in some cases two or three times those of other EU countries. I  would like to draw your attention to the fact that cross-country comparisons cannot be taken at face-value. In some countries, such as Italy, local councils put aside part of their annual budget to subsidise medicine prices within their area, a fact that some locals here in Malta, take advantage of. Others, such as Belgium, operate a system of co-payment, whereby patients pay a percentage of the purchase price, with the remainder of the cost being borne by the state.

Secondly, the concept of Purchasing Power Parity(PPP) must be taken into consideration. A Euro is not worth the same across all the Euro Zone countries, but rather, adjustments must be made fore the varying cost of living in each country.

Thirdly, no transparent and consistent tool presently exists to measure medicine prices in Malta, and enable realistic inter-country comparisons. Ongoing research under the auspices of the Pharmacoeconmics Section of the Pharmacy Department of the University of Malta, indicates that medicine prices have actually increased at a rate that is substantially lower than that of the general cost of living. It is intended to further develop this field of work and come up with a functional and reliable medicine price monitoring tool.

Even though I would rather not have to reply to unsubstantiated and ill-researched allegations regarding a subject that is, as correctly stated by yourself ‘  xx’, your editorial will hopefully be the stimulus for factual and reasoned discussion on the prices of pharmaceuticals in Malta. There is much to be addressed, and advancement will only be achieved if all of us involved within the field of healthcare and beyond, pool our resources to develop methods and policies for price monitoring and regulation, rather than attempt to generate sensational headlines by means of wide-ranging and generic statements about a complex and sensitive issue. 

John Vella
June 2010

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