Opinion

For another line of treatment

Ranjana Smetacek | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on May 20, 2014

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The new government should move away from compulsory licensing to spur drug innovation



One of the challenges for the government will be to make quality healthcare accessible to all. In the past, this has been seen primarily as a matter of cost — making the services of a doctor or hospital facilities or medicine cheaper.

However, a study last year by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics — Understanding Healthcare Access in India: What is the Current State? — called for a holistic approach. It identifies four dimensions of healthcare access: proximity and the location of healthcare facilities; availability and capacity of required resources; quality of services needed for patient treatment; and affordability of treatment relative to a patient’s income.

The IMS report says that poor public sector health infrastructure can impact the availability of healthcare workers and can result in below average quality of services at public health facilities. This leads the rural-poor population to seek costlier treatment options.

As India continues to focus on promoting an ‘inclusive healthcare’ agenda, it will need to enact sound policies that improve healthcare delivery, provide incentives for the sustained development of innovative medicines and strengthen the nation’s overall healthcare system.

Total overhaul

Making healthcare accessible requires the overhaul of our current health infrastructure. The most innovative and effective medicines are meaningless if they are out of the reach of patients because of poor access and infrastructure.

The new government should build a strong healthcare delivery chain from the bottom up. Today, we have sufficient sophistication and resources in key metros to be a premier medical care destination. However, we must ensure better access at rural levels, trained mid-level staff and paramedics, and a well-organised healthcare network.

The primary healthcare (PHC) system meets the needs of millions of Indians but must be strengthened and supported by telemedicine to ensure better health outcomes for patients, regardless of geographic location.

The other important area is affordability, defined beyond price by the ability to pay. The government has made interventions such as the revised Drug (Price Control) Order, 2013 to regulate the price of essential medicines. The focus must now shift towards the ability to pay, through well-thought out policies that include insurance cover and implementable government schemes.

Balanced approach

It would be shortsighted and simplistic for the next government to view patent protection as a barrier to healthcare access. It is also self-defeating to use compulsory licenses as the all-encompassing solution to make medicines cheaper and improve healthcare access. We need the new government to initiate a different dialogue in India: one that balances the need for universal healthcare access with the necessity for continued innovation and investment in new medicines.

The focus of the new government will need to be on ensuring a balance between the right of innovator companies to seek patent protection for their intellectual property and the right of Indian patients to affordable, accessible and quality healthcare. We need new drugs and solutions for rapidly-changing disease profiles and increasing health needs.

The pharmaceutical industry must continue to have the incentive to invest in new medicines if we are to address the huge unmet needs in cancer, diabetes, mental illnesses and numerous other diseases that still have no cure. Following the declaration of this decade as the ‘Decade of Innovation’ we need to see a molecule that is ‘Made in India’. We need to see more support from our government in making this happen.

There is no question that there has to be access to medicine for everybody. But equally, there is the urgent need to ensure that scientists and innovation-driven companies have the incentive to invest in the research and development of new medicines. Our industry remains committed to working with the Indian government and other stakeholders to find sustainable healthcare solutions. We need more accessible and affordable medicines and a more comprehensive dialogue between all stakeholders.

The writer is Director-General of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India

Published on May 20, 2014
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