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Fighting to break free

THE POLITICS OF ESSENTIAL DRUGS·Zaffrulla Chowdhury· Vistaar Publications, New Delhi · Price Rs 195

 
By N Raghuram
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- the political clout enjoyed by the pharmaceutical industry is evident from the fact that very few attempts at taming the malpractices perpetrated by it have succeeded so far. The top 20 pharmaceutical companies control over 50 per cent of the global market and often dump banned and irrational drugs on the Third World. As a result, the world today spends over us $250 billion per annum on drugs, while two billion people have no access to them.

Zaffrulla Chowdhury's book is an excellent documentation of the struggle waged by countries of the Third World for better health. Among other subjects, it deals with the global drug situation, attempts at reform in countries like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the evolu tion of Bangladesh's national drug policy and pressures exerted by mnc s against the policy, and the continuing efforts to preserve it.

The '70s saw several countries and in particular those of the Third World trying to reform their drug policies. India took the lead by passing the Patents Act (1970) and formulating the Hathi Committee (1974). Sri Lanka was the first to introduce drug regulations by implementing the recommendations of the Bibile-Wickremasinghe Committee (1971). Similar attempts were also made in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chile, Afghanistan, Canada and the us . But the drive did not last long as the international pharmaceutical lobby and their beneficiaries in the medical fraternity used every possible means to foil these attempts.

The Bangladesh national drug policy has benefitted greatly by learning some lessons from the experiences of other countries. It has been able to succeed mainly because of some determined health activists (like the author himself) and a responsive government. As a result, the prices of essential drugs in Bangladesh are among the lowest in the world. Medicines in the country are sold by their generic names rather than brand names and irrational drugs and combinations have been minimised. It must be mentioned that the policy bears many similarities to the recommendations of the Hathi Committee, which India has not been able to implement successfully.

One of the most striking features of this book is the richness of the information and data provided by it. The book debunks many myths generated by profit-greedy pharmaceutical firms in order to justify their monopoly over the trade and the high prices of drugs. The book deserves the attention of anyone concerned with health, anywhere in the world.

Finally, the publication of this book is rather well-timed as this year happens to be the silver jubilee anniversary of the formation of Bangladesh. It is a fitting tribute to a nation's struggle for better health that comes from Zaffrulla Chowdhury himself, the author of the Bangladesh National Drug Policy.

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