Cheap generic drugs are meant to change the lives of poor person suffering from the dreaded diseases like cancers. But the cashless and hungry millions of India still gaping and looking at the sky for the help they require. For them the knowledge of generic drugs does not mean anything.
A ruling by govt., for the first time allowed an Indian drugmaker to make and sell a blockbuster cancer drug at a fraction of the market price has been hailed as a breakthrough by campaigners for cheaper medicine in the emerging economy.
The generic version of the drug, German drugmaker Bayer’s Nexavar, will be produced under what is known as a compulsory license, available to nations to issue in certain cases where life-saving treatments are unaffordable.
Yet no amount of compulsory licenses will help the millions of poor Indians suffering from diseases like cancer, because even the generic version of Nexavar will be priced beyond the reach ofIndia’s poor, experts and medical professionals say.
Increased state spending on free and accessible healthcare and policies to extend insurance cover to its poorest citizens would be far more effective weapons. An expert oncologist says that the government has to start taking cancer seriously. They haven’t done anything. Even at generic prices, the drugs are too expensive for the poor. They don’t get anything.
India allocated 268 billion rupees ($5.4 billion) for healthcare in 2011-12, around a sixth the size of the defense budget. That represents 2.13 percent of total government spending, or $4.50 for each person in the country.
With around 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line, healthcare is an upper-middle-class luxury in much of India where spending in private clinics is four times the amount of that in government hospitals. The poorest would-be patients literally beg for treatment on the outside of a chronically underfunded and overstretched health system.
Indiagranted its first ever compulsory license, allowing Natco Pharma to manufacture and sell Nexavar, a liver and kidney cancer drug, inside the country. It effectively ends Bayer’s exclusive rights to the drug inIndia.
Campaigners for cheaper access to drugs hailed the decision, which was taken after the country’s patent office said Bayer’s Nexavar was not “reasonably affordably priced”.
But medical experts say cheaper drugs are just one tiny part ofIndia’s health deficit. The compulsory license system might not really work because poor people cannot even afford the discounted price. However, on the policy matter, Instead of dealing on a case-to-case basis, India needs to have a policy that will bring more and more people under medical cover. India needs to increase the health insurance penetration, so that even poor people can afford treatment.
Only 15 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population is covered by health insurance, according to business lobby group the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, meaning even at a lower price, Nexavar will be out of reach for many.