The NPPA has issued a list of price reduction in N-95 masks by four major producers namely; Venus Safety and Health, Magnum Health & Safety, Yash Care Life Sciences and Joseph Leslie & Co. Seemingly, some of them have lowered the MRP of their products.
Seemingly, the list seeks to demonstrate that the makers of these masks reduced the cost of their products, some up to 47 per cent, after NPPA issued an advisory on May 21, 2020, to manufacturers, recommending them to voluntarily slash prices. It had also asked manufacturers/importers/suppliers of the N-95 masks to maintain parity in prices for non-government procurement and make them available at the same reasonable prices.
It was issued after PILs were filed about exorbitant prices of N-95 masks and demands for price cap on these masks. On May 15, Maharashtra FDA had also requested NPPA to cap the prices of N-95 masks and PPE kits. It had pointed out that consumers are not aware of the exact MRP of N95 masks and PPEs. Sometimes, the MRP printed by some of the manufacturers is exorbitant and as a result, common public, private doctors, health workers and paramedical staff in private hospitals are forced to pay the said higher printed prices.
Recently, the NPPA had informed the Bombay High Court, through an affidavit, that capping the prices of masks at this point of time might “disincentivise domestic manufacturers” at a time when the masks are needed in great quantities. The affidavit mentioned that the government procures the largest chunk of the N-95 masks directly from manufacturers/importers/suppliers at bulk rates and ex-factory prices while in another part, it is stated that the price range of these masks in the market is between Rs 45 to Rs 350.
Speaking about NPPA’s reluctance to fix the prices of N- 95 masks, a source close to the development said, “There are a limited number of manufacturers in the country and nearly 90 per cent of their production is procured by the government directly. If the government fixes the prices of N- 95 masks, there are high possibilities that the market will witness a shortage of N-95 masks. And in that condition, if the country has to import, then for each mask, they will have to spend a minimum of two dollars, which will be much higher in comparison to these prices. Looking at the consumption demand it will not be a viable move.”
But, as per guidelines issued by the Health Ministry on May 15, 2020, N-95 masks are also to be used in non-COVID areas of treatment such as ENT clinics, emergency rooms, eye clinics, labour rooms, ambulance transfers etc. This has increased the demand for these masks. Moreover, healthcare workers in these places will have to buy these masks from the retail market. Hence, ensuring that they get these masks at standardised and affordable prices is imperative.
However, earlier, there have been reports that despite price caps on 2-ply and 3-ply surgical masks, many pharmacists and chemists have been selling them at inflated prices, which may also have contributed to rising concerns about the prices of N-95 masks among the medical fraternity, healthcare workers and public health activists.
For now, the NPPA has said that it hopes more manufacturers will cut their prices in the larger public interest and informed that this situation will be closely monitored.