'Bid to sully India’s tag as pharmacy of the world' | Mint

'Bid to sully India’s tag as pharmacy of the world'

Dr. Mandaviya says the government will give clearance to Bharat Biotech’s covid nasal vaccine soon.
Dr. Mandaviya says the government will give clearance to Bharat Biotech’s covid nasal vaccine soon.


Health Minister Dt. Mandaviya says no plan to impose lockdown and travel restrictions due to surging covid cases across the world.

There is an attempt to tarnish India’s reputation as the pharmacy of the world, and it is the government’s duty to safeguard India’s image, Union minister of health and family welfare, and chemical and fertilizer Dr Mansukh Mandaviya said, referring to the controversy around the death of 66 children in Gambia, allegedly after consuming Maiden Pharma’s cough syrup.

During the pandemic, India supplied quality and affordable medicines to over 150 nations without any complaint, Mandaviya said in an interview, adding that cough syrups manufactured by Maiden Pharma have passed quality testing and that the national drug regulator is seeking comments from the WHO regarding allegations against Indian medicines.

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Mandaviya noted the possibility of a new covid variant in circulation as several countries are experiencing a sudden increase in infections. India, he said, is preparing to meet any surge in cases by boosting the availability of hospital beds, oxygen, and vaccines. However, Mandaviya said there are currently no plans for lockdowns or travel restrictions as cases remain low in India. Edited excerpts:

China is facing a fresh covid surge due to Omicron BF.7. What is our preparedness, and will the government impose a lockdown?

A lockdown-like situation will not emerge in India because we have learnt covid management. I chaired a detailed meeting with experts and instructed random sampling of foreign travellers at Delhi and other airports having international arrivals to ascertain if any new variant was in circulation or not. We have alerted INSACOG to amplify the whole genome sequencing of positive samples. We have put an advisory for people to follow covid-appropriate behaviour. We have to be alert now because we are apprehensive that there could be a possibility of a “new variant" because so many countries right now are witnessing a sudden covid surge. I took stock of the situation for the availability of medicines, vaccines, export and import of raw materials. Right now, we are not thinking of travel restrictions. If needed in future, the government may do so. Despite fighting the pandemic, India has been able to maintain its GDP growth of 7%, with GDP of many developed nations declining. Hence, we cannot lower our guard. Very soon, we will give clearance to Bharat Biotech’s covid nasal vaccine. This will be very helpful for all.

How are we securing digital health infrastructure after the cyberattack at AIIMS?

Cyberattack is very common these days. The important thing is how we are securing our digital health system. We should learn from every incident and try to strengthen our systems. As far as the AIIMS cyberattack is concerned, we have retrieved the data now. There was not much damage to the system. However, I have issued an advisory to all hospitals, including all regional centres of AIIMS and ICMR, that our cybersecurity should be foolproof

How do you view the incident in Gambia in relation to India’s reputation as the pharmacy of the world?

Indian pharma firms and drug regulatory agencies follow a high standard. During the covid crisis, India supplied quality and affordable medicines to more than 150 nations. Nobody complained. As far as the Gambia cough syrup issue is concerned, the WHO has not been able to say anything because our stand is strong. Gambia purchased cough syrup of certain specifications; however, the tender was given to a US-based firm that procured cough syrups from an Indian firm which manufactured only one batch. These cough syrups were restricted for sale in India. That particular batch of cough syrup was sent to Gambia via that US firm. It is the responsibility of the regulatory authority of every country to test the medicines. However, in this case, we are not aware of whether the cough syrups were tested. Gambia came up with multiple statements, such as the presence of e-coli in children, which caused diarrhoea, testing 24 samples, out of which four samples failed, and 19 samples passed the quality standard test. This means the cough syrup batch was correct. Learning this, we constituted an expert panel to analyze cough syrups and the samples passed. Now, our drug regulator is asking WHO on what basis they are raising questions about the quality of Indian cough syrups. We think there is an attempt to tarnish India’s image, and it is our duty to retain India’s image as “pharmacy of the world", and we will not put ourselves down. India’s drug regulatory authority, i.e., the Central Drugs Control Standard Organisation, is one of the best in the world.

What is the Centre’s plan to address the growing number of young Indians experiencing heart attacks after covid-19?

It is true that after the covid crisis, there has been a sudden rise in heart stroke cases in the younger population but why it is occurring is still not clear. We have directed ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) to conduct a study to assess why heart attacks have become more common post-pandemic and the long-term impact of the covid virus. ICMR will take some time to submit the report.

What is the way forward?

We aim to boost the indigenous manufacturing of API and medical devices and bring FDI. We have already started working. As far as the health sector is concerned, in the coming year, we target to eliminate Kala-azar and Japanese encephalitis. We will also address the backlog of 10 million cataract cases, increase penetration of PM-JAY and effectively implement Ayushman Bharat Health Digital Mission.

What are the notable developments of the two ministries you are in-charge of in the year gone by?

Health and pharma sector both interlinked with each other. Medicines, manufacturing and production is part of the pharma sector while patient care, test-trace-treat strategy, regulatory authority and regulations are part of the health sector. Being the minister of both the ministries helped me to manage covid pandemic with a holistic approach and we were able to develop covid vaccine, do research, production and management.

Our key achievement is that we have successfully fought the covid crisis and that has given us the confidence that we will be able to tackle any pandemic in future. In the pharma sector, we brought pharma cluster development policy, research incentive scheme, PLI scheme for bulk drug and medical devices park.

Please highlight the achievements in the health sector?

We launched the Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission to improve the lapses in our health infrastructure that we noticed during the pandemic.

In the next five years, we have to spend 64,000 crore to strengthen India’s health system, which means that every district will be allocated 100 crore for the establishment of laboratories, hospitals with critical care units equipped with facilities such as ventilator, oxygen support etc.

Besides, this, we have reformed Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PM-JAY) and state governments have been asked to identify eligible beneficiaries so that they can be included in the scheme and avail the benefit of 5 lakh.

Ayushman Bharat cards have been rebranded with the logos of both states and the Centre making it portable for any beneficiary to seek treatment anywhere in the country. On an average over 900,000 Ayushman Bharat cards are being created daily, 95 patients are seeking treatment every minute, and 15 new private hospitals are getting empaneled with PM-JAY per day.

Under Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, over 29 crore ABHA IDs have been created so far. By the end of December 1.50 lakh health & wellness centres will get operational. These are conducting 4-5 lakhs tele-consultations (e-Sanjeevani) per day. This Telemedicine service saved travel by 21.59 km per health visit to the patient saving up to 941 cost to the needy patients per health visit. The cumulative cost saving is 7,522 crore across the country.

In addition, our Nikshay Mitra program for elimination of Tuberculosis is a success as more than 20 lakh TB patients have registered on the portal and 12 lakh patients have given consent for adoption. More than 44,000 individuals including MP, MLAs, NGO, political parties, etc. have volunteered to take care of TB patients by adopting them for their financial and medicinal needs. We aim to eliminate TB from India by December 2025.

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