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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 19 September 2023

  1. Are We Really Ready For Prescribing Generic Medicines?
  2. GI-certified products need to be popularised

Are We Really Ready For Prescribing Generic Medicines?


Context:

The Health Ministry is commendably advocating for generic medicines over branded ones and is emphasizing that doctors should exclusively recommend the former. The government is actively supporting this effort by establishing Jan Aushadhi drug stores in urban areas. The underlying principle behind these two initiatives is to ensure that patients have access to more affordable alternatives without compromising on their bioequivalence.

Relevance:

GS2-Health

Mains Question:

Is India ready to prescribe and adopt Generic Medicines? Analyse. (15 marks, 250 words).

Issues with Generic Drugs:

Lack of Sufficient Preparation: The tragic deaths of young children in Gambia, attributed to cough syrup imported from an Indian generic manufacturer, not only deeply shocked the global community but also cast a shadow of disgrace on the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

Often regarded as duplicate or counterfeit drugs: This narrative unfolded when Indian pharmaceutical companies, led by Ranbaxy and Cipla, dominated the global market under a system of process patents, which later shifted to product patents in 2005, following the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) insistence, likely influenced by Western pharmaceutical monopolies. These companies unfairly tarnished the reputation of all Indian drugs, even going so far as to seize shipments at transit centers in Dutch ports.

Phytosanitary conditions: Cleanliness and hygiene are as crucial to the pharmaceutical industry as they are to the semiconductor industry. Glycodin, despite its higher price compared to generic alternatives, remains the preferred choice for cough syrup among informed consumers in India. The quality of ingredients and salts used is as important as maintaining phytosanitary conditions. Decades ago, our soft drink manufacturers faced scrutiny for allowing chemicals to contaminate their products, often sourced from groundwater due to its high demand.

Recent Judgements in this context:

  • The recent ruling by the Delhi High Court, which emphasizes the need for clear distinctions between medicines to avoid any confusion (Mankind Pharma Limited vs. Novakind Bio Sciences Private Limited), is worth noting.
  • The test of deceptive similarity, often applied in trademark cases, should be rigorously and diligently applied to drugs, according to the judges. While phonetically, “Mankind” and “Novakind” may not be identical, the test of potential deception in the minds of ordinary people must be applied strictly, without leniency.
  • The point here is that drugs are in a category of their own as they directly impact consumers’ well-being, and therefore, no level of caution is excessive.

Way Forward:

  • Before insisting that doctors prescribe generic medicines without mentioning brand names, we must be confident that such a regulatory framework is in place.
  • When it comes to medications, especially life-saving drugs, affordability cannot be the sole and overriding consideration. Affordability is already being addressed by the market and the proliferation of delivery apps offering medicines at substantial discounts, delivered directly to patients’ doorsteps. As a result, the numerous drug and cosmetic stores that fill our urban landscape are also adjusting to this change, albeit reluctantly.
  • It’s common knowledge that the average retail margin on medicines is approximately 40%. Until recently, retailers tended to keep most of the profits to themselves, but the rise of delivery apps has disrupted this practice. Thus, the government need not prioritize affordability to the point of barring the prescription of branded drugs.
  • On a side note, authorities also express concerns about major pharmaceutical companies influencing the medical community through lavish gifts and trips to exotic destinations, which can lead to these doctors favoring their drugs when writing prescriptions. While these corrupt practices must be addressed, they should not blind the government to the importance of quality drugs. While branded products do not automatically equate to quality, the truth remains that a reputable brand is inherently committed to maintaining quality to protect its image.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, let the consumer decide whether they prefer branded or unbranded drugs, but considering the nature of the product, most patients will rely on their doctor’s guidance. Therefore, prescribing generic drugs is not a quick fix for our drug-related issues. This transition can only occur once we enhance our regulatory, inspection, and certification processes for pharmaceuticals.


Geographical Indication-Certified Products Need To Be Popularised


Context:

Increasing consumer awareness that purchasing these products will boost the local economy and preserve the local culture is a crucial measure.

Relevance:

GS 2-Government Policies & Interventions

GS3-Indian Economy

Mains Question:

How does GI tag benefit the traditional knowledge of Indian society? Mention the strategies needed to further popularise GI certified products. (15 marks, 250 words).

About GI Tag:

As per the World Intellectual Property Organization, a Geographical Indication (GI) is a symbol applied to products that originate from a particular geographical area and have distinct qualities associated with that location.

For a product to be classified as a GI, it must bear a mark indicating its origin in a specific geographic region. In India, the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act of 1999 was enacted and became effective on September 15, 2003.

Darjeeling Tea was the initial item to receive a Geographical Indication (GI) tag, which happened in 2004.

Current Status of GI Tag in India:

  • Since 2004, a total of 478 products have been granted GI certification. All of these products fall into the categories of either agricultural or handicraft items.
  • Prime Minister has been advocating for Geographical Indication (GI) products as part of his “vocal for local” initiative. He believes that if people choose to use locally-made goods for the next 25 years, it will significantly reduce unemployment. Additionally, he has urged tourists to allocate 5 percent of their travel budgets to support local products.
  • This aligns with the Swadeshi movement, championed by Mahatma Gandhi in the early 1900s, which emphasized the importance of purchasing locally-produced items. Supporting such products not only bolsters the local economy and culture but also enhances their marketability through the GI tag.
  • These products are typically promoted by civil society organizations that assist producers in obtaining GI certification and encourage them to leverage the GI tag for improved market positioning.
  • In many instances, the costs associated with certification are covered by development agencies, corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, and philanthropic organizations.

However, there has not been a corresponding rise in the sale of GI products.

Way Forward:

  • Firstly, it’s crucial for all distinctive and marketable products that meet Geographical Indication (GI) criteria to obtain certification, as this facilitates discussions and awareness about GI.
  • Secondly, civil society organizations and governments have limited roles and budgets when it comes to promoting GI products because it essentially involves a business transaction. Instead, focusing on enhancing consumer awareness and encouraging them to become discerning buyers can have a more positive impact.
  • Thirdly, producers of GI goods should maintain the authenticity of their products.
  • Fourthly, they should establish associations or guilds that establish standards and eventually market the GI product.
  • Fifthly, the GI value chain holds significant potential for both domestic and export markets. However, this potential can only be realized when an entrepreneur with strong marketing skills identifies potential GI products and collaborates with all stakeholders across the entire value chain.
  • Lastly, state governments should actively promote all their GI products on their tourism websites and official portals. They could also consider using short message services (SMS) to promote GI products. Each of us has a role to play in elevating our unique culture and heritage, embodied by our GI products.

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