A recent study shows that more South African consumers are choosing to use generic drugs over their branded equivalents, resulting in huge savings.

In its most recent Medicines Review, Mediscor, a pharmaceutical benefit manager, says that the use of generics has risen to 56.3 percent, with a steady increase over the last five years.

Taking a basket of 200 of the most prescribed medicines in the private health sector, and across two million lives, a Mediscor study showed that the difference in price between an original medicine and the average generic medicine is 45.2 percent while a comparison between the original and the least expensive generic is 55.9 percent.

Generics, which become available when patents on their branded equivalents expire, are essentially copies of brand-name drugs, containing the same active ingredient but costing much less.

“Generics are subject to the same rigorous registration process as branded medicines, but are substantially less costly,” says Vivian Frittelli, the chief executive of the National Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, the organisation that represents generic manufacturers in South Africa.

Courier pharmacies and dispensing general practitioners were key drivers of the increase in utilisation, which includes an increase to 91 percent for the treatment of HIV/Aids and to 86 percent for oncology. The lowest usage was observed in over-the-counter medicines and those dispensed for medical schemes’ prescribed minimum benefit conditions.

Medicine costs in the private sector have increased by an average of 7.09 percent annually since 2014 compared with specialist fees, which increased by 10.9 percent, and hospital costs, which increased by 9.36 percent.

This is a result of the combination of the single exit price, which regulates the cost of medicines, and the increasing use of generics. Mediscor has found that generic medicine equivalents are available for about 73 percent of the drugs measured.