Investment on vaccines more than cost of treatment: Experts
Hinting at the nexus between big pharmaceutical companies and policymakers in the country, experts said there are plans to pump a lot of money for certain vaccines, while the treatment of diseases caused will cost far less.
They also said the government has to include more medicines in drug price control mechanism. Dr Jacob Puliyel, head of paediatric department at St Stephen’s hospital, gave the example of pneumococcal vaccine, which is being discussed at national and international levels to be introduced widely in India.
The vaccine costs Rs 12,000 per child. World Health Organisation data show that the vaccine reduces 3.6 cases of pneumonia among every 1,000 children vaccinated. Treating four cases of pneumonia costs Rs 40 if Septran (as recommended by WHO) is administered. Even if the cost of vaccination comes down to Rs 1,200 per child, still Rs 1.2 million will be spent to save Rs 40, he said.
Pointing to lack of proper research for deciding priorities in public health in India, he said that children are given rota virus vaccines. However, there is no study to find rate of reduction of diarrhoea among the vaccinated in the country.
“Fifty per cent of Indian children do not receive vaccines under Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) of the WHO which contains basic vaccines all children should have,” he said.
Dr Puliyel was speaking at the 27th Ramanadham Memorial Meeting titled Public Health, Inequality and Democratic Rights organised by People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR).
Dr Amit Sengupta of Delhi Science Forum and leading figure of Peoples Health Movement in India said that CEOs of six to seven big pharma companies in the world decide possibility of life and death of crores of people worldwide.
He said technology and new medicines have ensured that people live longer and infant mortality rates come down. However, the time period in which knowledge expands, awareness of curbing the disease expands even faster.
Taking example of swine flu vaccine, he said, “Within two months of swine flu being notified, there was a vaccine. That is power of global knowledge in medicine today. But poor countries were standing last in the queue as all the vaccine was bought over by Europe and the United States.”
He said most Indians are not able to buy medicines even though India is called the "pharmacy of the South."
“India exports medicines to over 200 countries. Nearly 80 per cent of HIV medicines used in the world are produced in India. But a huge number of Indians do not have access to medicines due to bad public distribution,” said Dr Sengupta.