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‘We need 500% transparency in healthcare’

P.T. Jyothi Datta | Updated on September 15, 2014

Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan

Harsh Vardhan gets about five hours of sleep every night. Yet, the Minister does not usually lose sleep over anything. You need a clear mind for a solution, he says, in an interview that winds up, at midnight. From clinical research to quality of local medicines and euthanasia, the minister discusses a range of issues. Excerpts:



Clinical trials continue to generate debates across India. What are your thoughts?



You cannot have evidence-based medicine without research. Research with an honest vision and without unethical pressure is essential for society.



If someone did not discover the polio vaccine, we would not have been able to eradicate polio. However, what we need to ensure is that there are no commercial interests involved in such endeavours. We need to update and augment research to find solutions to problems. If there are concerns, the law can be amended. Our Government is committed to strengthening the regulatory infrastructure and States are being helped to set up laboratories. Shortage of manpower is already a focus area.



Indian drug companies have often come under the scrutiny of foreign regulators. Do they face as much scrutiny in India?



When I was Delhi’s Health Minister, I had an essential drug policy model. Purchasing medicines was made foolproof.



I followed a two-bid system where companies had to make a quality and rate bid. There was a two-level checking system and the technical bid ensured that the companies comply with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). At different levels and at different times, qualified people (consultants and pharmacologists) would visit factories, pick up samples from the market and test them in laboratories.



Does it worry you when Wockhardt or Ranbaxy encounter regulatory issues overseas?



While some people are doing commendable work at reasonable rates, there are others who are commercial in their approach. You cannot generalise and accuse everybody of selling sub-standard products.



Will you revisit the previous Government’s whistle-blower policy?



Not specifically the whistle-blower policy, but I have made it clear that we need 500 per cent transparency in healthcare. We need to be efficient and dedicated and not compromise at any cost.



The Health Ministry of the earlier Government had mooted compulsory licences on certain cancer drugs — allowing third parties to produce the drug at a lower price, after paying royalty to the innovator. Are you in favour of these licences?



It has to be a considered decision and you cannot accept the monopoly of a handful of companies. Of course, a regulatory mechanism should be in place. However, whatever we do will certainly be in the interest of the people.



What are your views on euthanasia?



This is a subject that needs to be deliberated upon by patients, medical professionals and religious heads. While as a doctor, my opinion will be different from that of a patient, it may change if I am the patient. It involves emotion and ground realities. We should not rush into this. Instead, we should take time and gradually build a consensus.



Is there a possibility of you opting for the post of Delhi Chief Minister and giving up your current portfolio?



Health is my passion. The rest is to be decided by the party and people.

Published on September 06, 2014

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