A new UCL School of Pharmacy report entitled ‘Health and Health Care in India: national opportunities, global impacts’, published today claims that India, world’s largest generic medicines exporter, still lacks assured free access to good quality generic medicines and the support needed to use them to best effect for large section of its population. This unmet need is particularly high in the context of preventing and treating the growing burden of heart problems, strokes and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, as per the report.
‘Health and Health Care in India’ estimates that NCDs already cost India the equivalent of 12.5 per cent of the nation’s GDP in lost welfare terms. A similar (though falling) burden is still imposed by infections and events such as traffic accidents and violent deaths in groups such as relatively young women.
Co-author of the report Professor David Taylor observed, “India currently spends only a little over 1 per cent of its GDP on publicly funded healthcare, and only about 0.1 per cent of GDP on publicly funded medicines for the Indian people. These are very low figures, even by the standards of the world’s least developed countries. It would be tragic if plans for extending universal health coverage and increasing the supply of free generic medicines for those who lack the resources to purchase even minimal cost modern treatments for common conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are not taken forward as an urgent priority.
The new UCL School of Pharmacy analysis in addition argues that well-off individuals and groups living in every part of the world should contribute to the global costs of high risk bio-medical research as failures to respect appropriately intellectual property rights needed to protect research investment risk will undermine the future development of new and more effective medicines for conditions such as cancers and dementias. They could also endanger other forms of bioscience based progress.
Adding further Professor Taylor said, “Some people wrongly believe that steps like cutting the prices of products like new anticancer drugs that can only be used effectively in high technology settings will significantly improve public health in India. But this is not the case. Measures like imposing compulsory licences on such medicines are in fact only likely to benefit well-off individuals. The mass of the population will gain from better day to day access to low cost but highly effective treatments that are already freely available.”
The UCL School of Pharmacy report concludes that, without enhanced universal access to essential medicines and other forms of cost effective care, health improvement and social transition in poorer parts of India may stall. Given the size and importance of the Indian population this could in future have harmful global impacts.
Report co-author Dr Jennifer Gill said, “There are no easy answers as to how the world community can ensure that poor people everywhere get good access to essential medicines without over-supplying products like antibiotics or undermining provisions like patents that are needed to promote ongoing investment in medical and pharmaceutical innovation. We need strengthened mutual understanding to achieve better care in poorer areas and to sustain investment in innovative research, without which global progress cannot continue”
‘Health and Health Care in India’ highlights the potential value of solutions such as internationally agreed tiered or differential pricing arrangements. These should allow public healthcare providers in low income countries to obtain essential patented medicines at affordable costs from the producers responsible for their development.
EP News Bureau