Pharmaceutical companies that market prescription drugs in the next few months without translations of package information into Arabic and Russian will have to pay fines, according to a law approved Monday for its second and third readings in the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.

The government proposal, pushed by Health Minister Yael German, was approved after a noisy and long discussion in the committee. Companies that delay implementation of the previously passed law requiring translations from May 1 will have to pay NIS 30,000 to NIS 60,000 for each delay of three months, it was decided. Pharmacies may keep selling drugs lacking the translations if they are already on the shelves.

The companies had been warned nearly two years in advance about the change, but they continue to argue that they didn’t have time, said German.

The companies warned the ministry that if the deadline is not postponed, patients will be left without lifesaving and other prescription drugs.

German said the fines would be used to supply Arabic- and Russian-speaking people with information on drug contents and usage. This, she added, would cost NIS 8 million. At present, package information must appear only in Hebrew and English.

At first, Knesset committee chairman MK Haim Katz said he feared that the fines would go to the Treasury and not directly to the Health Ministry.

Daniel Berman, head of Pharma-Israel, which represents drug companies, tried at the session to postpone the deadline. About 12 million packages of about 200 different drugs have already been translated, he said, but others remain.

Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said at the meeting that the pharmaceutical companies “know they could have done better” to meet the deadline. “I will not round corners.”

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