Indian ‘sunrise’ industry and poor quality drugs…
I write in response to the article on 8th December 2009 with the heading ‘India expresses concern over ban on drug companies’.
I’m perturbed to learn that the highest level of Indian state bureaucracy has called upon the health minister and intervened in the recent controversy on certain drugs and their quality. Though I’m uncertain about the nature of any bilateral agreement between the two respective governments with regard to the matter, a few questions beg answers.
The controversy began with more than few drugs being reported at various government health institutions around the country, as being sub-standard and of low quality. The issue generated much attention with various parties.
Fingers were pointed at many and certain new circulars were issued banning any health worker exposing the shortcomings to any external party.
Health ministry officials and the health minister himself vowed to take stern action against the suppliers, mostly Indian companies. As a result, we’ve learnt that a few Indian companies were banned from supplying drugs to the health ministry for a "limited time."
It is against this backdrop that the Indian High Commissioner is reported to have met the health minister and urged him to reconsider the ban. There have been a few reasons forwarded to justify the request.
(A) India being the main supplier of drugs to Sri Lanka.
(B) The drug industry being very important to India. (One of the ‘sunrise’ industries as reported).
(C) The respective ‘companies’ have pledged to adhere to ‘Sri Lankan requirements’.
While the capacity to ascertain the quality of each and every drug (laboratory testing) is at a bare minimum in our country, how the argument (or the persuasion) does justify the Indian request is the million dollar question.
Are we to purchase all and any of the Indian drugs without any questions asked just because India is our main supplier? Are we to sacrifice the safety and the efficacy of the drugs we use on our patients just because the industry is important to India? How much of Indian Pressure is/has been exerted on the Sri Lanka Health Ministry in the matter of purchasing drugs?
While struggling to find answers to these questions, the interesting point that comes to my mind is the ‘assurance’ the Indian High Commissioner himself has conveyed to the Health Ministry. To assure that the companies will adhere to Sri Lankan requirements in the future is to indirectly accept that the ‘requirements’ were not met before.
The intriguing question is that how much weight the ‘Indian concerns’ have in the matter of deciding the drugs to be purchased. Are we more concerned about the patients and their health to stand up and reject any drug or a company when they fail in quality even if they come from India? Are we worried more about the prospective future of the Indian industry, than our own countrymen?
The Minister of Health has reportedly claimed that drugs and equipment for the ministry are purchased after due consultation by appointed expert committees. He has added that the committee comprises professionals, most of them, doctors. Therefore, it is perceived that the ‘proposed’ visit by the representatives of Indian pharmaceutical companies will resolve these issues after meeting these doctors.
However, as a final note, I would like to highlight something which is reported in the article. "………assured him that the relevant Indian companies will cooperate with the Sri Lankan government in all possible ways desired for satisfactory redress of alleged lapses." One wonders what would be "all the possible" ways to redress a ban imposed on a company which supplied drugs with insects in it!
Dr. Sankalpa Marasinghe