Drug Makers in India Blame Archaic Norms for Swine Flu Deaths
MUMBAI: Drug makers in India have blamed an "archaic" health ministry regulation for the shortage of medicines used for treating swine flu, saying they had to destroy stockpiles of the drugs because chemists were reluctant to procure them. More than 600 people have died of the disease across the country in the past two months. Many patients, even in bigger cities like Delhi, have complained of lack of swine flu medicines at drug stores and hospitals.
"Since the drug comes under Schedule X, there are various licences required to stock the medicines, which dissuades chemists to stock them," said an executive at Mumbai-based Cipla, which manufactures swine flu drug under the brand name Anti Flu. "And, if chemists are seen selling swine flu drugs without adequate licences, they immediately face prosecution." Schedule X classifies "restrictive drugs" under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of India, which imposes limitations on their sale by pharmacies and hospitals. Narcotics drugs, for example, are classified as Schedule X.
The government intention behind including swine flu drugs under Schedule X was to prevent their incessant use, which could make the disease immune to the drug.
"There was no demand for swine flu medicines throughout last year, because of which we had to destroy lakhs of batches as they had expired," said Adar Poonawala, managing director, Serum Institute of India.
"Even chemists were reluctant to buy the medicines from us because there was no demand."
Oseltamivir and Zanamavir are two key drugs used for treating swine flu. They are manufactured by drug companies such as Cipla, Natco, Hetero and Ranbaxy Laboratories.
Besides, Serum Institute of India manufactures vaccines in the name of Nasovac and Nasovac S, which can also be used as preventive drugs.
Poonawala said it is also the responsibility of the health ministry to purchase the vaccines and keep the demand cycle going. "However, right now, we are back on our production cycle and ready with the new batch, so there is no shortage from our end," Poonawala added.
Comment: The major reason that government is making supply of these medicines restricted is to prevent emergence of drug resistance due to indiscriminate use by panicked population. This will lead to complete lack of response in the cases that actually need the treatment.