It’s difficult to overestimate the impact India’s private sector has had on global health. That was one of the messages of a new report on emerging economies and healthcare.
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A man held AIDS medication in New Delhi, June 22, 2006.
In fact, India’s private sector arguably has played a bigger role in reshaping global health than has financial assistance from national governments, argued David Gold, head of Global Health Strategies initiatives, a New York-based nonprofit that launched the report in New Delhi on Monday.
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“The impact that the Indian pharmaceutical industry and India’s vaccine industry have on driving access to lifesaving drugs and vaccines has been extraordinary,” Mr. Gold told India Real Time on the sidelines of the event.
The report was launched before leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa gather in New Delhi for a two-day meeting starting Wednesday.
In recent years, India’s pharmaceutical companies have revolutionized the industry by offering drugs and vaccines at low prices, dramatically increasing access for people around the world.
A turning point was when, in 2001, Cipla Ltd. introduced high quality HIV/AIDS treatments at a fraction of the existing market price. At the launch of the report, this was hailed as a milestone on the role of BRICS in global health, matched only by Brazil’s decision to guarantee free anti-retroviral drugs to its citizens a few years earlier.
Other Indian firms followed Cipla’s model and today India supplies 80% of HIV/AIDS medicines used by patients in developing countries, according to Médicins Sans Frontières, a humanitarian aid organization.
Indian companies have also produced cheaper vaccines, including one for meningitis, designed mainly for African patients.
The impact of India’s companies on global health in some ways counterbalances the country’s limited foreign health assistance to poorer countries. India spent $680 million in foreign assistance in 2010, only a small part of which was spent on health, according to the report. Most of the money went to India’s South Asian neighbors and can be seen as an extension of the country’s regional policy. This is a lot less than, say, China, which spent $3.9 billion in foreign assistance that year, more than any other BRICS country.
Although their foreign healthcare funding is still limited, the report noted that contributions by BRICS countries have increased rapidly and that they are emerging as important donors.
But India’s government is contributing to reshaping global health in other ways. Above all, it is resisting pressure from foreign manufacturers to tighten intellectual property rights on generic drugs, which activists say could compromise access to affordable drugs for millions of patients worldwide.
Earlier this month, India’s patent authority forced Bayer AG to grant a compulsory license to a local manufacturer to guarantee patients have access to a liver cancer medicine.
India’s Supreme Court soon is set to hear an appeal by drug maker Novartis SA against a government decision to reject patents on one of its expensive cancer drugs.
Another area where India could make a difference in the longer term is innovation. The report shows that, along with other BRICS countries, it is starting to invest heavily in early research and development.
“If that yields results, in a parallel way that we’ve seen with the manufacturing expertise, the impact this could have on global health — as well as on India’s own population — would be huge,” said Mr. Gold on India’s R&D push.
For all its achievements, India still faces important challenges at home. The country’s healthcare infrastructure is poor and many, especially children, suffer from malnutrition.
India’s healthcare services are unlikely to significantly improve any time soon. Although malnutrition was one of the focus areas of the recent federal budget, the country spends just 1% of its gross domestic product on healthcare, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
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Via: India Real Time