Doctors and patients in the UAE welcomed the new move by the Department of Health (DoH), which will allow the dispensation of the cost-effective generic medicines in all pharmacies across Abu Dhabi. The decision will help patients save more money while receiving same quality of medications.

The DoH announced the new mechanism will take effect from September 1, to mandate dispensing of generic medicines, which have the same drug efficacy and safety, for patients as prescribed by their doctors and are covered by health insurances.

Dr Diab Kurdi, head of pharmacy, Burjeel Hospital, said pharmacists must now explain to the patients that the cost-efficient generic medications have the same effect as the costly branded medications, even if they are around 60-70 per cent cheaper.

"As pharmacists, we must inform the patients that all the generic and branded medications have the same effect, because there are a lot of misconceptions about this."

He said the recent decision by the DoH will benefit health insurance companies, pharmacies, as well as patients in the emirate.

"I think this is the right move, because it will provide patients with more options of medications, and it will also improve the communication between pharmacies and patients."

Dr Kurdi said patients will be able to save 60-70 per cent on medication by switching to generic medications.

"All the chemicals are the same, but only the companies are different."

He pointed out that some patients have a health insurance 'credit card,' which has a limit of around Dh1,700 to be used in pharmacies each year.

"This limit will quickly finish when people keep buying branded medications. People with limitations on expenditure can't easily buy the brand medications."

He said the generic medicines are often produced locally, while branded medicine are often produced abroad.

Patients will thus receive their choice by paying the difference in price between the reference price and the price of selected medicine brand or generic.

Nisreen Mohammed, a resident, told Khaleej Times that she was paying around Dh200 for her medication to control her diabetes for the past six years.

She said she was unaware of cheaper alternatives, which could have saved her thousands of dirhams, as the cost is slashed in half.

"If the pharmacists told me there is a cheaper alternative, which has the same effect as the one I've been taking, then I could have saved a lot of money," said the mother of two.

"I think this is part of the reason as to why pharmacies have been told to dispense generic medications to the patients and provide generic medications as the first choice. This is the right step forward by the DoH, it will help the general public save a lot of money and still have the same benefit."

Salma M.H., another resident, said customers should always ask pharmacies for the generic medications if they are available. "I always go for the generic medications because I know that I will be saving more than half the price. I think the new rule across all pharmacies in Abu Dhabi has a lot to do with consumer protection, which is vital," said the 31-year-old.

Dr Georgey Koshy, chief medical officer, Universal Hospital, said life-saving medications are not considered part of the generic or non-generic medications.

However, he said the most commonly used branded chronic medications, for diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure for instance, will have the generic medication dispensed.

"The brand medications for chronic medications cost around Dh250, whereas their generic counterparts costs are around Dh110. They are generic, doesn't mean they are sub-standard, and this is the most important factor, which, unfortunately, many doctors and patients don't understand."

The DoH and the Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap) monitor every drug that has been introduced in the UAE market, therefore the quality and the standard is high, he explained.

Dr Koshy said the pressure, however, is now on medical insurance companies to cut down prices of drugs. "If the generic medications will be dispensed in pharmacies, then it will change the rates. The burden comes down on the insurance companies, because the cost of these drugs will have to further come down."

He stressed that despite tight monitoring and control, many expats in the UAE still bring medications from their home countries because they are cheaper.

The chief medical officer added that the move announced by the DoH will thus provide flexibility and will be cost effective for patients. "Patients will have more choices for them. The medications have the same effect, but they are more affordable."

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