ImageMaking sure that patients keep taking their medicines in a sluggish economy, in which some may choose to forego some items to save money, will be one of the issues tackled in an upcoming annual drug and pharmaceutical conference.

The 14th International Pharmaceuticals and Technologies Conference and Exhibition (Duphat) is set to run from Sunday to March 31.

Dr Ali Al Saeed, director of pharmaceutical services at the Department of Health and Medical Services and chairman of Duphat, told the global economic slowdown was a big concern for all.

"We in the UAE have not been affected. But people will consider everything while trying to cut costs," he said,. "They cannot say they won't buy medicines because they are [potentially] lifesaving, but there is a concern they might [forego some medicines]," he added. He said the pharma-economic discussion scheduled at the conference will deal with prescribing the right medicine for the right patient at the right time.

For many, this means generic drugs – drugs that contain the same active ingredients, but are produced by drug companies other than the original patent holder. For example, Panadol is a brand name painkiller produced by GlaxoSmithKline, while a generic painkiller that is equal to it will have the active ingredient paracetamol manufactured by another drug company.

Retailers in the US say sales of generic medicines, as well as over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements, are going up.

Dr Saeed said that, so far, the generic market in the UAE has not taken off to the point that it threatens the brand-name pharmaceutical industry.

"People are used to the brands – they are not used to generics. The day will come when they realise the benefits. For now, cost-consciousness building slowly," he said.

"Some people are already starting to ask for it [a generic] now – they don't want the brand," he added.

There are also fewer generic drugs available in the UAE as the country lacks a federal drug regulatory and testing system to ensure that generic drugs are the equivalent of their more expensive brand-name counterpart.

There are obvious risks.

"Good generics will save money, but bad generics will lose you money in the long run," Dr Saeed said.