In India it appears that our political leadership always wants the easy way out. Being a democratic country, our politicians feel it is easier to ask for vote in exchange for bribe disguised as social justice. It is much more difficult to explain why a country needs to take hard decisions. Neither voter nor the vote seeker will realistically and voluntarily choose a difficult path.
What is our way out. Many of us understand that government and society needs to extend a helping hand to communities / castes / sections that are lagging behind socially and economically. Government starts with intention of subsidizing food and fuel for disadvantaged sections of the society. However, it does not want to do the hardwork of identifying poor and give them necessary subsidies directly to the needy. Because of our incompetence and laziness, we end up subsidizing all population, leading to gross imbalance in economy. This attitude also encourages corruption and intended subsidies do not reach the poor.
There are several such disconnects between government intent and government action. A case in point is the debate between generic and patented medicines. Government wants essential medicines available to needy section of population free / subsidized / cheap. However, most of the time government subsidized medicines are sold in black market. Let us not forget the availability of spurious and adulterated medicines created by generic manufacturer.
Process of discovering a new medicine and making it available in the market place is very expensive and risky. As a result the cost of a life saving medicine is high. In order to bring down price of medicines, in India did not recognize product patent, but allowed process patent – in simple term, Indian companies could chemically synthesise the active principle of a new medicine by a different process. Major cost and risk of bringing a new medicine to market involves clinical trials. Any molecule that does not have to undergo clinical trial, is expectedly going to be less expensive than the original molecule.
In last decade or so, India has agreed to honor product patent. However, there is a caveat. In case of national emergency / need, government can give permission to allow manufacture of a medicine by a different process and make it available to general population at cheap price.
I think our government has good intention in mind. However, it is ignoring one point, that government is not honoring years of hardwork and risk taking of people that invest in business of drug discovery and development. An offshoot of this decision is ignoring complex research and development activity that is needed to understand basis of human disease and create a therapeutic option for it. Instead our decision makers encouraging people who just copy someone elses work, albeit using creative chemistry solution, and launch in the market. This is plain and simple unfair, even if it is permitted by law of the land, morally this is wrong. Moreover, generic medicine cannot be there in the absence of research on original medicine. If original medicine makers skip India, then people suffering most will be poor. It is agreed that generic players sell medicines cheaper than original player, but since their risk is low, they are still keeping a very heft price. Cost of generic medicine may be cheap, cost of a good generic medicine is still beyond the reach of poor and lower middle class. So how are our policies oriented towards poor?
In a diverse country like India, one size fits all may not work. Instead of simply encouraging generic medicines for the benefit of poor, our government must encourage research in new drug discovery and development. This will be good for Indian science in the long run. It is also important to note that the same politician who wants cheap medicine for Indian citizens, goes abroad for treatment. Becasue they have has no faith in our system. Yet they does not want to improve Indian system.
1. Generics: Superiorly or Spuriously? : Anoop Kohli
2. GM foods considered safe in US, but not in India : SA Aiyar