Fate of Drug Price Control order

Dr. Arun Mitra

It was astonishing when the union health minister Shri J P Nadda said in an interview on a TV channel that the government will institute inquiry in to the exorbitant prices of drugs. It would be naive to believe that till date the government was ignorant about this. Knowing well the machinations by the private pharma companies the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) was established in 1995 to fix/revise the prices of controlled bulk drugs and formulations and to enforce prices and availability of medicines in the country, under the Drugs(Price Control) Order 1995.
Medicines were split into two parts the essential and nonessential medicines. The NPPA fixed the prices of essential medicines on the basis of National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) provided by the government. It is how ever beyond comprehension how a medicine can be essential or non essential. Once a chemical is labelled as drug, it automatically becomes essential because it is to be consumed only under the medical advice. Therefore the efforts to streamline the price of drugs has not borne desired results and the people are left to the mercy of market mechanism even for the drugs and medical appliances.
Having sensed that private sector in the pharmaceutical sector would be exploitative our first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru took initiative to produce the drugs in the public sector with the purpose  of  producing cheap bulk drugs. While inaugurating the Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (IDPL) in 1961 he said “the drug industry must be in the public sector….. I think an industry of the nature of the drug industry should not be in the private sector anyhow. There are far too much exploitation of the public in this industry”. With the vision of the then Prime Minister of India, IDPL was incorporated in April, 1961 It was established with main objective of creating self-sufficiency in respect of essential life saving medicines, to free the country from dependence on imports and to provide medicines to the millions at affordable prices. .
IDPL has played a pioneering infra-structural role in the growth of Indian Drug Industry base. It played a major role in the strategic National Health Programmes like Family Welfare Programme & Population Control (Mala-D & Mala-N) anti-malarial (Chloroquine) and prevention of dehydration (ORS) by providing quality medicines. During the country’s calamity of outbreak of Plague in 1994, IDPL was the only company which played the sheet anchor role in supplying Tetracycline for the entire Nation.
Similarly, the company had made uninterrupted supply of Chloroquine to combat Malaria epidemic in different parts of the country. In 2005 to combat national emergency (leptospirosis) arising due to flood in Maharashtra, IDPL had supplied required Doxycycline Caps. within no time. IDPL has always supplied quality medicines and its presence has played a price balancing role in the competitive business environment. World Health Organisation had made its observations on IDPL as follows:-“IDPL had achieved in 10 years what others have in 50. IDPL products have been examined for quality very carefully by the developed countries and many of them want to buy from here.
Similarly the foundation stone of Hindustan Antibiotics Ltd (HAL) was laid by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Central Research Institute (CRI) Kasauli is pioneer in the field of vaccines not only in India but in the world. Founded in 1905, the institute was originally established with a mandate of research work in the field of medical and public health, manufacture of vaccines and antiserum, human resource development and to act as a national referral centre for public health problems. The contribution of the Institute towards vaccine production during the period of the Second World War for the immunization of troops to keep them fighting, finds no parallel.
But when there was shift in the economic policies and there were changes in the patent rights laws under the WTO after it was founded on 1st January 1995, the whole scenario started changing. Indian companies had to bear the brunt and major impact was on the Public Sector Units (PSUs). The IDPL, HAL and CRI at Kasauli were financially constrained. Cheap vaccines produced by these companies now became very expensive and out of reach of common man.
The Union Cabinet’s recommendation in its cabinet meeting  on   December 28, 2016 to close down and sell the pharmaceutical PSUs is a big blow to the concept of the state ensuring affordable, and possibly free-of-cost, medicines for millions.  The right thinking health activists should raise voice to build public opinion for strengthening the pharmaceutical PSUs if the country really wants affordable medicines for the people.  (IPA/The writer is a leading ENT specialist based in Ludhiana. He is the Senior Vice-President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD). He is presently the member of the core committee of Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare in India.)

Thursday, 3 August, 2017