An ad featuring PM Modi on a national daily | Manisha Mondal/ThePrint
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New Delhi: After splashing front pages of newspapers with advertisements highlighting the anti-satellite missile test (A-SAT), the Modi government is now set to pay for a series of such advertisements to promote its move to reduce the price of over 500 anti-cancer drugs by up to 87 per cent.

The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) — the drug price watchdog under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers — is ready with the final copy of the print advertisement and is awaiting approval from the Election Commission in view of the model code of conduct in place for the Lok Sabha elections.

The Modi government had first announced a price cut on 390 anti-cancer medicines on 8 March — a day before the model code of conduct came into force. It has since added more drugs to that list, taking the total to 517 anti-cancer medicines.

According to a bureaucrat in the department of pharmaceuticals, under which the NPPA falls, “the reduction in prices of anti-cancer drugs is one of the top achievements of the Modi government and it should be publicised for creating awareness in ‘public interest’”.

It will be the second instance where the drug watchdog will advertise its move through print advertisements — the first came when it promoted the fall in prices of stents.

“Like other government departments, we were also not advertising our moves under the previous UPA government,” said the officer quoted above. “But in the last five years, two of the three big healthcare moves have come from NPPA. The third one is Ayushman Bharat.”

Also read: Modi govt slashed prices of cancer drugs, just not for the costly ones

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Making of the advertisement

The price regulator had invited proposals, to design “a full-page newspaper coloured- advertisement”, on 1 March. “All the print media creative agencies empanelled with DAVP are requested to send their proposals, specifying the elements of costs involved and total costs,” said the notice by NPPA.

The Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) is the nodal agency of the government of India for advertising by various ministries and organisations. The advertisement has been designed and is ready for publication.

“We are ready with the advertisement but waiting for the EC’s go ahead,” said another official at the NPPA.

The officer, however, denied any link between the advertisement and the upcoming elections.

“The advertisement is necessary to be rolled out because we are receiving many calls on our helpline numbers where people are interested to know about the names of the formulations whose prices have been reduced,” he said without divulging the details on the number of calls it is receiving per day.

“However, the timings are clashing with general elections and we need EC’s clearance. Otherwise, we are also planning campaigns on FM radio.”

Also read: Nearly 400 cancer medicine prices slashed by up to 87%

Ads before elections

Last year in February, before the Maharashtra municipal elections, the front page of several leading national newspapers carried advertisements with pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis promoting the NPPA’s move to reduce the price of stents.

“Expensive angioplasty stent is now cheaper by 85 per cent; the decision of a sensible government,” the ads had then said.

The NPPA’s move also found mention in some of the speeches given by PM Modi.

“Our government has worked towards good health and well-being of the people of India. Prices of stents, knee surgeries and medicines are coming down. This is helping the poorest of the poor in the country,” PM Modi said in Lok Sabha in February.

The latest advertisement is also expected to feature PM Modi along with claims such as “the price cut of anti-cancer drugs would lead to the annual savings of Rs 800 crore to over 22 lakh patients in India”.

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