Getting the drug equation right

Sonal Matharu reports how fights over counterfeit drugs and low-quality drugs is suppressing the larger issue of drug safety

By Sonal Matharu
Published: Saturday 15 September 2012

A recent two-day conference in New Delhi on how to phase out poor quality drugs from the market became a battle field between the organisers and health activists.

Though both claimed to represent the concerns of patients their differences over how to approach the issue of drug safety were obvious at the public forum. Health activists accused Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), organisers of the event, of siding with the pharmaceutical companies and ignoring the real problem of spurious medicines. PSM only allowed discussions on how counterfeit medicines pose a problem.

The health activists became more furious when India head of PSM, Bejon Misra, intervened after each panel session and wrapped them up with minimal discussion. He did this despite moderators being present for every session. Each session concluded with Misra reiterating that technology is the only way to solve the problem of counterfeit drugs in the world.

Misra also refused to let health activists elaborate on the point that more than counterfeit drugs it is drug contamination that is a bigger concern for patients and it should also be put on the agenda of the conference. Misra concluded the session while Leena Menghaney from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an international non-profit, was still making the point. Displeased with Misra's lack of courtesy, Menghaney, stormed off the stage and later put on record that the health activists are breaking all ties with the consumer groups to which the organisers belonged and will work directly with the government. She also accused PSM of not disclosing the names of the funders.

On the second day of the conference, all hoardings of PSM were removed from the auditorium except the one on the stage as the hoardings had the logo of US Patents and Trademark Office, an agency of the US commerce department. The logo of the US patents on the hoarding on the stage was covered with a white cloth. Organisers said this was done to show that there is no sponsorship or involvement of the US patent office in the conference. Not only this, representatives of PSM also tore apart pages of presentation on protection of patents from the folders given to the audience. The organisers added that there will be no presentation on patent safety at the event. The Indian generic drug industry is engaged in a tussle with the US drug companies over drug patents.

The dramatic two-day conference made it clear that the pharma sector, which is already unpopular for making a deep influence on the prescription patterns of doctors in India, is now shamelessly using consumer rights and needs to save its interests.


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