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Health Official Fired Over Disagreement

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dismissed Nikolai Yurgel, head of the Federal Health and Social Development Inspection Service, from his post on Saturday because of a public disagreement with the government on new legislation to regulate the pharmaceutical market.

"Yurgel sided with experts rather than taking the position of the government" on the legislation, a representative of the Health and Social Development Ministry said, RIA-Novosti reported.

The law in question, which was passed by the State Duma in its first reading late January, is strongly criticized by pharmaceutical companies.

Yurgel appeared to side with some of the critics of the legislation after it was discussed at a Duma meeting last Thursday. "The fears expressed by the pharmaceutical industry representatives regarding the new law are not exaggerated," he said in an interview with Vzglyad. "Lawmakers must listen to their concerns."

Last Friday, Putin stressed the importance of passing the law quickly despite its controversial nature. "I know there are sharp debates, including within the government. I want you to pay attention, however, to the fact that the Health and Social Development Ministry has decided on its position, which is supported by the government, and any deviations from this position will be suppressed, including by making staff changes," he said at a meeting with key United Russia party officials. "I want you to keep this in mind on the legislative level," Putin said. While the warning was made to party officials, the prime minister does not have the authority to fire Duma deputies under the constitution.

The law on the sale of pharmaceuticals is intended to regulate the market, including by setting prices on 5,500 pharmaceuticals, or about a third of the market, which are considered especially important.

Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova praised the legislation after its passage in a first reading. "This legislation makes the market equally accessible for domestic and foreign producers" and will create "a completely new structure detailing every stage in the sale of pharmaceuticals," she said.

Pharmaceutical companies have asked the Duma to hold off on passing the law, claiming that it currently does not clearly spell out the rules for licensing, registering and deregistering new drugs and requires a disproportionately large fee for registering drugs. Drugs companies say the measures will drive up prices and put smaller companies out of business. Experts discussing the law on Thursday advised the Duma to postpone adoption of the law until Jan. 1, 2011.


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