- The global community was made aware of the importance of the Indian pharmaceutical industry not only for its ability to produce required medicines for the world but also for the quality of its products, especially during the pandemic. Even the majority of the Indians would not have been aware of the Indian pharmaceutical’s credentials till the same was revealed during those harrowing two years. The Indian SARS-Cov-2 vaccines were introduced, produced, and distributed around the world in record times which were effective in keeping the dreaded virus at bay in India as well as overseas. While communities across the world went ga-ga over what the Indian pharmaceutical companies can deliver, some concerns are being raised on this front now.
- As reported extensively in newspapers, the production licence of Noida-based drug firm Mario Biotech was suspended yesterday after the WHO edict that two cough syrups made by the company should not be used for children. This is welcome as the test results were found to contain toxic ethylene glycol and were linked to 19 children’s deaths in Uzbekistan. This comes after a similar tragedy in the Gambia where the deaths of 70 children were linked to the consumption of four contaminated syrups made by Haryana-based Maiden pharmaceuticals. In both cases, the culprit appears to be poor manufacturing of solvents used in the medicine. Generally speaking, this portends trouble for the much-feted pharmaceuticals industry of India.
- Of course, these appear to be extreme cases in the sense that products were not sold in India. And that medicines manufactured for use in India generally meet adequate standards, although the problem of fake or less-than-ideally-effective pills persists. It is also the case that medicines manufactured for export to rich countries are made according to the specifications of the importing country. But more needs to be done to tackle manufacturing/regulatory infirmity and help India win the perception battle. Let’s remember that in as sensitive a product as medicines, global perception is important for India’s export-attuned pharma industry. Any negative perception is only going to harm the assiduously built reputation over the years.
- Guarding against the unyielding optics should assume paramount importance for the Union Government. As such, the Union Government should undertake a thorough and transparent inquiry focused on the supply chain – from vendors of active pharmaceutical ingredients to the manufacturing process to regulatory processes. It’s not as if there haven’t been controversies about pharma manufacturing standards in India, or that some plants’ processes haven’t been found less-than-ideal, or that questions haven’t been raised about regulation, including by a parliamentary standing committee. India deserves the tag ‘pharmacy of the world’ but with that global recognition comes the responsibility of ensuring the strictest standards for products. Mind you, it can make a difference between life and death.