Yielding to drug monopolies’ pressure

The Union Cabinet has decided to sell out four public sector drug manufacturing companies to the private sector. One of these has a sentimental association with the Bengalis for more than a century. It is the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceuticals Ltd., founded by Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, one of the few internationally reputed scientists produced by an India held in bondage. The other three are the Hindustan Antibiotics Ltd., the Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd., and the Rajasthan Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. With this, the Indian State has completely withdrawn itself from the manufacture of medicines – leaving the entire field to the Indian and especially the foreign multinational predators.

And how big is the field? According to statistics released by the industry, the turnover of drugs and pharmaceuticals in India in 2005 was $6 billion. It rose to $13.8 billion in 2013 and to $36.7 billion in 2016. The turnover projected for 2020 is a staggering $55 billion. So in just over a decade, the sale of medicines has gone up six times between 2005 and 2016. What about the profits earned by the Indian and foreign drug companies? Practically limitless – from cent per cent to a thousand per cent. The huge profits earned enable the companies to retain a vast army of retail sellers who have the high-sounding name of ’medical representatives`. To promote their sales and earn more profits, the manufacturing companies use a part of their profit to keep the doctors happy – to put it euphemistically. Then there are the retail shops which earn a huge profit on sale of medicines.

It is the consumer, that is, the patient or his relatives, who are at the receiving end all the time. Life-saving drugs like those for treatment of cancer are sold at prices which are beyond the reach of even comparatively well off middle class people. These drugs can be sold much cheaper. Even then they will fetch a good profit. There is an official body for controlling drug prices. But it acts more in the interest of the industry than in the interest of the patients. There is a nexus from top to bottom. Now the Government has shrugged off its responsibility for making drugs that were being sold at reasonable and affordable prices. There is nothing ‘kala’ about this business – of fleecing the suffering people and making money – enormous quantities of it – all lily white and tax-paid.

Saturday, 31 December, 2016