As the government gears up to push generic medicines to bring down costs for patients, World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in India Henk Bekedam has stated that the move, if successfully implemented, will not only reduce the cost of medicines within the country but also globally. The 59-year old global health leader — who previously served in a similar capacity in Egypt — said that there were several “pre-qualified” generic medicine companies in India producing quality medicines.
“Make in India is important as India will be able to produce a greater quantity of good quality generic medicines, which will bring down the cost of medicines globally and more people in India and globally will be able to afford quality medicines,” Bekedam, who assumed his present job in November 2015, told IANS in an interview.
Asked whether the foreign pharmaceutical companies, which are major suppliers of branded medicines, will be affected if India steps into the picture, Bekedam said that India is already the world’s pharmacy, exporting quality generic medicines and vaccines.
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“And by bringing down the cost of normal medicines globally they will be accessible to every one,” he maintained.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said on April 17 the government will bring legislation mandating doctors to prescribe generic medicines which are cheaper than their equivalent branded drugs.
Generic medicines are the cheaper versions of branded drugs and come into the market after the patent period of the branded medicines expires. Manufacturers then replicate the medicines and come up with the cheaper versions. Since generic drugs do not involve a repeat of the extensive clinical trials to prove their safety and efficacy, it costs less to develop them.
According to Bekedam, out-of-pocket expenditure on medicines and other treatments by patients was a burning issue that had affected India’s health system.
Stating that generic medicines can help in increasing their accessibility, Bekedam said that currently in India, two-thirds of people’s medical expenditure comes from their own pockets, which leads to hesitation among them to go for surgery and other treatment.
In such a situation, generic medicines can provide relief to the patients.
“If we compare India with other countries, the government’s contribution to health is just over one per cent of the GDP which is low by international standards. It results in people spending out of their pockets. Two-third of all health expenditure comes from people’s own pockets. It also leads to hesitation among people to seek surgeries and other treatments,” said Bekedam.
He also urged a hike in India’s health budget at a time other countries such as China, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh allocate at least three per cent of their GDP dedicated to the sector.
The Union budget allocated Rs 47,352.51 crore for health in fiscal 2017-18, against Rs 37,061.55 crore in 2016-17.
“India is a fascinating country and has similarity with other Asian countries and in terms of economic growth. When there is economic growth then there is more room for investment in health. I can see the potential in India that it can now put more money in terms of health and economic growth,” said Bekedam.
Noting that 60 million Indians are in poverty due to paying health bills, he said: “India should invest more in health.”
Having closely monitored India’s health sector for almost two years, Bekedam said such investment will help the country become less vulnerable in terms of health calamities. Investing in a surveillance system that can detect and respond to diseases is crucial.
Citing the example of three West African countries affected by Ebola, he said: “These countries lost 12 per cent of their GDP. Such countries are not able to detect the disease because of which they have to suffer the loss.”