Dinesh S Thakur | March 12, 2016
For over two and half years now, I have tried very hard to convince the Indian government to do something about the widespread prevalence of substandard drugs in the country. A recent report puts the number of substandard drugs as 1 in 7; an audit of the Armed Forces Medical Stores Depot by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) shows that 1 in 4 locally procured drugs are substandard. This means that our Armed Forces personnel and their families are being prescribed significant high percentage of sub-standard drugs.
In September 2014, with great difficulty, I secured an appointment with the then Minister of Health, Dr Harsh Vardhan. A few months earlier, he had criticised the Central Drug Standards Control Organisation (CDSCO) as a “snake pit of vested interests” and had also accepted that the corrupt practices had been exposed by several authorities in the past. Dr. Harsh Vardhan went on to say “I have inherited a poisoned chalice. But a revolution is coming.” Given his public statements, I was very hopeful that he would lend me an ear; an opportunity to explain what I foresaw. Unfortunately, in the few minutes he gave me, he was more concerned with his the logistics of his upcoming trip with his assistant while I tried to hold a conversation with him. I was asked to send my thoughts “in writing” to him which I did, but I never heard back from him. Perhaps his subsequent appointment to the Ministry of Science & Technology meant I was no longer his problem. Disappointed, I tried to reach out to the Quality Council of India (QCI), which is a body setup by the Government in 1996 with the objective of creating an ‘ecosystem for quality’ in the country. The new prime minister had made a high profile appointment to head this organization; I was hopeful that if anyone understood the consequence of what the Indian pharmaceutical industry was engaged in, I thought it would be them. After a few phone calls which initially sounded encouraging, the communication ended abruptly. I never heard back from the head of the QCI for reasons better known to them. As a last resort, I even reached out to the CEO of a very large member of the pharma industry after I read of his commitment to “put things right” that appeared in the media. I offered my help in addressing the problems that his company was facing; sadly, other than a response to agree to meet, nothing ever came of it. Clearly no one seemed to be interested in addressing this public health epidemic in India.
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