US health secretary Michael Leavitt hopes to improve the quality of food, drugs and medical products imported from India on a tour this week, after tightening rules for Chinese makers to reduce harmful products.
Leavitt, 56, visited a hospital and an HIV/AIDS education prevention site on Monday in Chennai.
On Tuesday, he will tour a generic medicines plant in Hyderabad, operated by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd—India’s biggest drug maker.
“The secretary is interested in exploring ways to ensure that product safety meets the criteria for both the US and India,” said Raymond Sass, a spokesperson for the US department of health and human services, in an interview on Monday.
Leavitt heads a task force created by President George W. Bush that is studying new US safeguards for imports. In November, the group released a plan to improve import safety, which included heightened interactions with exporting nations among its recommendations.
The focus of his India trip will be import safety and collaboration on science and research, said Holly Babin, a department spokesperson, in a 4 January interview. The US isn’t negotiating any specific agreement with India.
Some of the stops will be to look at facilities that export products to the US to gain a better understanding of how they are doing business, the spokesperson said.
In December, the US reached agreements with China to improve safety standards on food and drug shipments from the Asian nation after tainted goods, including toys with lead paint and contaminated seafood, toothpaste and pet food, reached consumers.
Seeking insights: Leavitt will look at facilities that export products to the US for a better understanding of their business. Dr Reddy’s Laboratories’ generic drugs plant in Hyderabad will be one of the stops. (Bloomberg)
Experience gained from the discussions may help guide arrangements with other US trading partners, Sass said.
Indian and Chinese pharmaceutical companies, which make about 20% of generic and over-the-counter drugs sold in the US, get little scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The Washington Post had reported in June.
FDA, charged with ensuring the safety of drugs sold to Americans, made only 200 inspections of pharmaceutical plants in India and China during the previous seven years, compared with 1,222 checks of US drug makers last year, the newspaper said.
Sales of generic drugs will increase by 14-15% to $70 billion (Rs2.75 trillion)—about 10% of the world market, this year, according to IMS Health Inc., a Norwalk, Connecticut health research firm. Two-thirds of all prescriptions in the US are for generic copies, said Murray Aitken, a senior vice-president at IMS.
While in India, Leavitt will visit sites that produce food, medicines and other products for exports to the US, as well as health-care facilities that are delivering polio vaccine, and care and treatment for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, according to an emailed statement.
The health and human services department has committed $30 million during the past year to US-India collaboration through agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA. Some of the money has been used to strengthen HIV surveillance and treatment.
Five years ago, Bush pledged to spend $15 billion over five years to combat AIDS. The Bush administration had asked Congress in May to approve $30 billion over the next five years—double the current US programme, to mount a more aggressive campaign to stem the spread of the virus that causes AIDS. “Our commitment to India and to the ministry of health is a strong and ongoing one,” Leavitt said. “Under President Bush’s initiative on AIDS, we are seeking to double the amount of money we can spend to help our friends around the world, including India.”
Leavitt will meet senior officials in the Indian government, business leaders in the export community, as well as university students and faculty. The trip is Leavitt’s fourth to Asia since taking office.
FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, and David T. Hopper, the US consul general to south India, will also visit Dr Reddy’s plant. (Bloomberg)
Justin Blum in Washington contributed to this story.