Small Steps, yet Giant Leaps: In Pursuit of Affordable Medicines for All

Since last few years, some small yet very significant steps are being taken, mostly by the respective Governments, in and outside India, to provide affordable healthcare in general and affordable medicines in particular, for all.

It is well recognized that drug prices play as critical a role as a robust healthcare infrastructure and quality of its delivery system to provide affordable healthcare to the general population of any country. Thus, it is not a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. All these issues must be addressed simultaneously and with equally great care.

A WHO report:

A World Health Organization (WHO) titled, “Improving access to medicines through equitable financing and affordable prices” highlights as follows:

“In many countries medicines account for over half of total health expenditures and are often unavailable and unaffordable to consumers who need them. Up to 90% of the population in developing countries still buys medicines through out-of-pocket payments, and are often exposed to the risk of catastrophic expenditure.”

Definition of ‘Access to Medicines’:

How then one will define ‘access to medicines’?

United Nations Development Group, in a paper titled ‘Indicators for Monitoring the Millennium Development Goals (United Nations, New York, 2003) defined  ‘Access to Medicines’ as follows:

‘Having medicines continuously available and affordable at public or private health facilities or medicine outlets that are within one hour’s walk from the homes of the population.’

Healthcare ‘affordability’ is critical:

Despite healthcare infrastructure in India being inadequate with a slow pace of development, affordability of healthcare, including medicines, still remains critical. 

This is mainly because, even if a quality healthcare infrastructure together with an efficient delivery system is put in place without ensuring their affordability, patients’ access to quality healthcare products and services will not improve, especially in India, where private healthcare dominates.

Diversionary measures should not cause distraction:

Although, maximum possible resources must be garnered to address the critical issue of expanding quality healthcare infrastructure and delivery system sooner, the focus of the government, as stated above, must not get diverted from making healthcare products and services affordable to patients, at any cost.

This should continue despite diversionary measures from some quarter to deflect the focus of all concerned from affordability of healthcare to lack of adequate healthcare infrastructure and its delivery mechanisms in India.

This, in no way, is an ‘either/or’ situation. India needs to resolve both the issues in a holistic way, sooner.

Small Steps:

In an earnest endeavor to provide affordable medicines to all, the following small and simple, yet significant steps have been taken in and outside India:

  1. Strong encouragement for generic drugs prescriptions
  2. Regulatory directive for prescriptions in generic names
  3. In case that does not work – Government initiative on Patient Empowerment

In this article, I shall try to capture all these three small steps.

1. Strong encouragement for generic drugs prescriptions:

A. Generic drugs improve access and reduce healthcare cost:

A Special Report From the ‘US-FDA Consumer Magazine’ and the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Fourth Edition / January 2006 states that generic drugs offer significant savings to the consumers.

Quoting a 2002 study by the Schneider Institute for Health Policy at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., it reiterated that if Medicare increased the rate of generic usage to that of similar high-performing private sector health plans, its 40 million beneficiaries could see potential savings of US$14 billion.

Another US-FDA report titled, ‘Greater Access to Generic Drugs’ also reinforced the argument that rising costs of prescription drugs remain a major challenge for consumers, especially older Americans. To address this issue effectively generics can play a critical role by providing less expensive medications.

B. ‘Obamacare’ followed this direction resulting decline in spend on high priced Patented Drugs:

Recently The New York Times quoting IMS Health reported that nationwide turnover of patented drugs in the U.S actually dropped in 2012. This decline though was just by 1 percent to US$ 325 billion, is indeed very significant and happened due to increasing prescription trend for low cost generics across America since past several years.

It is interesting to note this trend in America where the cost of medicines account for just about 15 percent (against over 70 percent in India) of the nation’s health care expenditures.

IMS Health reported that in 2012, 84 percent of all prescriptions were dispensed as generics and estimated use of generics may reach even as high as 86 to 87 percent in the U.S.

However, many experts believe that this trend is a result of many blockbusters like Lipitor going off patent during this period and no major breakthrough medicines coming with perceptible added value in these large therapy areas.

That said, lesser number of small molecule blockbuster drugs is set to lose patent protection over the next several years and the complexity in manufacturing and getting marketing approvals of large molecule biosimilar drugs in the U.S could arrest this trend.

Biosimilar drugs though are available in European Union, are expected to be available in the America not before at least two more years.

Despite a sharp increase in prescriptions for generic drugs, some of the patented medicines came with ‘jaw-dropping’ price tags: four drugs approved in 2012 carry a yearly cost of more than US$ 200,000 per patient, though the cost of development of some of these drugs do not exceed US$ 250 million, as reported by Forbes.

2. Regulatory directive for prescriptions in generic names:

A. Different situation in India:

Although increasing trend of generic prescriptions is bringing down the overall cost of healthcare in general and for medicines in particular elsewhere in the world, the situation is quite different in India.

In India over 99 percent of over US$ 13 billion domestic pharmaceutical market constitutes predominantly of branded generics and some generic medicines without brand names.

B. Allegation of branded generic prescriptions linked with marketing malpractices:

As Reuters reported, quoting public health experts and some Indian doctors, that due to an unholy nexus between some pharmaceutical companies and a large section of the medical profession, drugs are not only dangerously overprescribed, but mostly expensive branded generics are prescribed to patients, instead of cheaper equivalents. The reports said that this situation can be ‘devastating for patients — physically and financially — in a country where health care is mostly private, out of pocket, unsubsidized and 400 million people live on less than US$ 1.25 a day’.

It is now a matter of raging debate that many branded generic prescriptions are closely linked with marketing malpractices.

Not just the media and for that matter even a Parliamentary Standing Committee in one of its reports highlighted, bribing doctors by many pharma players in various forms and garbs to prescribe their respective brand of generic drugs has now reached an alarming proportion in India, jeopardizing patients’ interest seriously, more than ever before and  observed that speedy remedial measures are of utmost importance.

C. MCI initiative on prescription in generic names

To address this major issue the Medical Council of India (MCI) in its circular dated January 21, 2013 addressed to the Dean/Principals of all the Medical Colleges, 
Director of all the hospitals and the
 Presidents of all the State Medical Councils directed as follows:

“The Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002 inter-alia prescribes as under regarding use of generic names of drugs vide clause 1.5.

1.5 – Use of Generic names of drugs: Every physician should, as far as possible, prescribe drugs with generic names and he/she shall ensure that there is a rational prescription and use of drugs.”

All the Registered Medical Practitioners under the IMC Act are directed to comply with the aforesaid provisions of the Regulations without fail.

You are requested to give wide publicity of the above regulation to ensure that all the doctors practicing medicine under your jurisdiction comply with the regulation.”

MCI also urged the Medical profession to implement the above provision for prescriptions in generic names both in its letter and spirit.

As the situation has not changed much just yet, it is up to the MCI now to enforce this regulation exactly the way as it has intended to. Otherwise the value of this circular will not even be worth the paper on which it was printed by this august regulatory body.

D. Parliamentary Standing Committee recommends it:

As mentioned above, prior to this circular, Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) for Health and Family Welfare in its recommendation to the ‘Rajya Sabha’ of the Indian Parliament on August 4, 2010, also recommended prescription of medicines by their generic names.

E. Why is the bogey of ‘product quality’ so active only for generic prescriptions and not for branded generics?

It is indeed difficult to fathom why is the product quality issue, which could make drugs unsafe for the patients, being raised so much for generic medicines without a brand name and not for branded generics?

The following questions should well be raised for greater clarity on the quality issue with generic medicines without a brand name, for all concerned:

  • Are all generic medicines of dubious quality and branded generics are of good quality?
  • If quality parameters can be doubted for both branded generics and generics without a brand name, in many cases, why then raise this issue only in context of prescribing generic medicines ?
  • If quality issues are not much with the larger companies and are restricted to only smaller companies, why then some branded generic drugs of smaller companies are being prescribed so much by the doctors?
  • Currently many large companies market the same drugs both as generics without a brand name and also as branded generics, why then the branded generic versions are prescribed more than their generic equivalents, though manufactured by the same large companies having the same quality profile?
  • Why are the generic medicines of good quality available at ‘Jan Aushadhi’ outlets (though small in number) cost a fraction of their branded generic equivalents and not being prescribed by most of the doctors?
  • Why do the doctors not show much interest in prescribing generic medicines as of date and defend the branded generics on the same ‘quality’ platform?
  • Why not those who argue that phonetically similar or wrong reading of generic names at the chemist outlets may cause health safety hazard to the patients, also realize that many already existing phonetically similar brand names in totally different therapy areas may cause similar hazards too?
  • How does a doctor while prescribing a branded generic or generic medicine pre-judge which ones are of good quality and which others are not?

These questions, though may be uncomfortable to many, nevertheless merit clear, unambiguous, straight and specific answers.

3. In case MCI directive does not work – Government initiative on ‘Patient Empowerment’:

A. Laudable Government initiative:

Recognizing this issue in tandem, on December 7, 2012 the Department of Pharmaceuticals together with the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority announced as follows:

“There are number of drugs available in the market with same medicament composition with wide variation in their prices.  The prescription of doctors also varies from low price to high priced drugs for the same ailment. Government of India intends to launch an SMS based patient awareness scheme, which would enable the patients to know the cheaper alternatives medicines available”.

The timeline for implementation of this initiative was announced as six month from the date of awarding the contract.

It was reported that in this mobile phone based program, consumers by sending a text message of any branded generic drug prescribed by the doctors would get an SMS reply with a list of brands of the same molecule along with their prices to exercise their choice of purchase.

As usually happens with most government decisions, the gestation period of this laudable ‘patient empowerment’ initiative perhaps will get over not before end 2013.

B. One interesting private initiative:

One interesting private websites that I have recently come across offering information on branded generic drugs is (I have quoted this website just to cite an example and not to recommend or promote it in any form or manner). There may be other such websites, as well, in the cyberspace.

However, in this website, if anyone types the brand name of the drug that one is looking for, the following details will be available:

  1. The generic version of branded medicine.
  2. The company manufacturing the brand.
  3. Its estimated cost in India
  4. Alternative brand names with same generic salt.
  5. The cost effectiveness for different brand for the same salt.

Such information, if available easily from the Government or any highly credible source, will indeed help patients having access to affordable low cost medicines to lessen their out of pocket financial burden, at least for medicines.


In India, even if branded generic prescriptions continue despite MCI directive, to empower patients making an informed choice to buy low priced formulations of the same prescribed molecule, the above ‘Patient Empowerment’ initiative will play a very critical role.

Thus, I reckon, to improve access to affordable medicines in India, like many other countries elsewhere in the world, the above small steps that are being taken by the MCI, the Department of Pharmaceuticals, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority and other private players are indeed laudable and must be encouraged.

Kudos will pour in, from India and abroad, if such small and simple steps get ultimately translated into a giant leap in the healthcare space of the country…for patients’ sake.

By: Tapan J Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Creating an IPR friendly robust ‘Echo-System’ and ‘Improving Access to Affordable Medicines’ are not either/or situation in India

Last year, though the growth of the Global Pharmaceutical Industry with a turnover of US$ 752 billion significantly slowed down to just 6.7% due to various contributing factors, the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry continued to maintain a robust of growth of 18% with a turnover of US$ 8.1 billion (IMS 2009).

Need to invest more in R&D:

On a longer term perspective, the domestic industry growth will be significantly driven by the newer products, which will be the outcome of painstaking innovative research and development initiatives. Keeping this point in mind, the fact that today India accounts less than one per cent of over US$130 billion of the worldwide spending on research and development for pharmaceuticals, despite its known strength in process chemistry and abundant talent pool, has started attracting attention of the government.

Robust IPR regime and addressing the needs of the poor both are equally important:

The Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh in his address at the Fortune Global Forum in New Delhi in October, 2007 clearly enunciated, “We have affirmed our commitment to the protection of intellectual property rights. But, the global economy, the global community cannot afford the complete privatization of research, of knowledge generation, especially in fields like medicine. We need to evolve mechanisms that protect intellectual property and at the same time, address the needs of the poor”.

Thus encouragement, reward and protection of IPR and addressing the crying needs of the poor are definitely not an either/or situation. The country needs to address both with equal importance and focus.

‘Vision 2020’ of the Department of Pharmaceuticals:

It is encouraging to note that the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) of the Government of India through its ‘Vision 2020’ initiatives is planning to create a new echo-system in the country to promote new drug discovery platforms. This is expected to catapult the country as one of the top five global pharmaceutical hubs, by 2020 attracting additional investments of around US$ 20 billion to the GDP of the country.

The Primary role of the Pharmaceutical Industry in India, like in many other countries of the world, is to make significant contribution to the healthcare objectives of the nation by meeting the unmet needs of the ailing patients, with innovative affordable medicines. This role can be fulfilled by developing newer medicines through painstaking, time-consuming, risky and expensive basic research initiatives. To help translate this vision into reality appropriate echo-system needs to be created in the country, urgently, for the Pharmaceutical Industry in India to commit themselves to its one of the prime functions of discovering and developing newer medicines not only for the patients in India but for all across the world.

Ongoing efforts in Research & Development (R&D) would require a robust national policy environment that would encourage, protect and reward innovation. Improving healthcare environment in partnership with the Government remains a priority for the Research based Pharmaceutical Companies in India.

Need to tighten the loose knots:

However, in the new paradigm, which has been designed to foster innovation in the country, there are still some loose knots to be tightened up to achieve the set objectives for the nation, in the longer term perspective.

Uncertainty over weak enforcement of patent in the country should be dispelled, with efficient administration of the new patent regime. Regulatory Data Protection should be introduced to spur R&D investment and global collaborative opportunities. This will, in turn, help improving the competitiveness of India vis-à-vis countries like China to attract appreciable investments towards R&D of pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical products. It is believed that the capacity of our judiciary should be expanded and specialized courts that can enforce Pharmaceutical patents be provided with requisite technical expertise.

How to address the core issue of ‘availability of quality medicines at affordable prices’?

India needs to address the root cause of the ‘pricing issue’ affecting ‘access to quality medicines at affordable prices’ to a vast majority of its population, in a holistic way, rather than superficially with a piecemeal approach, as is being done since long.

The policy of ‘stringent price control of medicines’ of the government since 1970, has certainly enabled India to ensure availability of medicines at the lowest price in the world, lower than even the neighbouring countries like, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. However, the core issue of ‘affordability of medicines’ has still remained elusive and will remain so, if we continue to tread this much beaten path, though not so successful in the perspective of the core issue, even today.

This is mainly because, around 40% of our population still costitutes of ‘Below the Poverty Line (BPL)’ families, who, very unfortunately, will not be able to afford any price of medicines. This is vindicated by the WHO report, quoted by even our government that 65% of Indian population has no access to modern medicines, as against 15% in China and 47% in Africa, despite medicines prices being the cheapest in India.

In such a situation, even if prices of all drugs featuring under the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM), anti-cancer and other drugs are brought under stringent price control, the same ‘affordability of medicines’ issue will continue to linger.

Moreover, the recent announcement by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), “as per the Secondary Stock Audit Report of ORG-IMS for the month of April 2010, which covers 60,000 packs, in the non-schedule category, the percentage of packs whose prices have increased on monthly basis during 2009-10, is only in the range of 0.0003 to 4.75%, while the remaining have shown stable to declining prices,” clearly vindicates that unusual price increase of medicines is also not a problem either, in India.

Considering all these points, as I have been suggesting since long, the government should, at least now, allocate adequate fund to cover all BPL families under “Rashtriya Bima Yojona’ and ensure its effective implementation by creating adequate healthcare infrastructure and measurable/transparent delivery systems. Similarly, the rest of the population of the country should be covered by encouraging opening-up and deep penetration of a variety of medical insurance products to suit all pockets together with appropriate tax incentives, as is currently being extended to the ‘Mediclaim’ policy holders.

In all developed countries and many emerging markets like China (where about 85% of the population are covered by different types of healthcare expenditure reimbursement schemes), the issue of ‘affordability of medicines’ has been addressed with such type of approach and other social security measures by their respective governments.


“Employers must take health cover for staff or lose tax gains”: Montek Singh Ahluwalia

It is indeed quite encouraging to note from the report of The Hindu Business Line dated September 9, 2010, as this critical issue is being regularly deliberated through this column, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has “mooted denial of tax deductibility on wage payment if the employer in the organised sector does not take steps to enrol the employee in a group health insurance scheme. Mr Ahluwalia said employers in the organised sector should be encouraged to make it compulsory for their employees to join a group health insurance scheme, in which the employer and the employee make contributions. As an incentive for this, the insurance premium that is paid can be exempt from tax as India will never be able to expand insurance for which people pay unless an element of incentive-cum-compulsion is introduced”. Mr. Ahuluwalia further commented, “If you leave it to people, only rich people will buy insurance, even middle class people will not buy insurance,” He insisted that “his proposal is feasible and the Government should give it a very serious consideration”.
High incidence of mortality and morbidity burden of India can only be addressed by improving ‘Access to Healthcare’:

Therefore, improving access to healthcare in general and medicines in particular should be on the top priority agenda of the policy makers in our country. High incidence of mortality and morbidity burden in a country like ours can only be addressed by improving Access to healthcare through a concerted partnership oriented strategy. Thus, Pharmaceutical Industry in India should be committed to actively support all efforts from all corners towards this direction to improve Access to Medicines to a vast majority of population in India. Although sporadic, efforts to this direction are being made through various laudable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Initiatives by both local and global pharmaceutical companies within the country.

Pharmaceutical Industry also needs to behave as a responsible corporate citizen:

Another area of focus should be on good corporate governance. This encompasses adherence to high ethical standards in clinical trials, regulatory and legal compliance, working to prevent corrupt activities, high ethical standard in promotion of medicines and addressing all other issues that support good healthcare policies of the Government. In addition, the Pharmaceutical Industry should take active measures to involve all concerned to fight the growing menace of counterfeit and spurious medicines which significantly harm the patients all over the country.


It is obvious that the Pharmaceutical Industry alone will have a limited role to address the key healthcare issues of our nation. All stakeholders like the government, corporate and the civil society in general must contribute according to their respective capabilities, obligations and enlightened societal interests to effectively address these pressing issues.

However, it is worth reiterating that the Pharmaceutical Industry in India should continue to act responsibly and demonstrate commitment to work closely in collaboration with all stakeholders to make newer innovative medicines both preventive and therapeutic available and accessible adequately at an affordable price to the ailing population of the nation. Thus, in my view, for the progress of the nation, creating a robust IPR friendly ‘Echo System’ and ‘Improving Access to Quality Medicine at an Affordable Price’, are certainly not an either/or situation for the astute policy makers in India, as is being made out to be at some quarters.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

The Union Budget 2010-11…the issue of improving access to healthcare…encouraging innovation… and beyond

The Primary role of the pharmaceutical industry in India, like in many other countries of the world, is to make significant contribution to the healthcare objectives of the nation by meeting the needs of the ailing patients through improved access to modern medicines.

This role could be fulfilled primarily in the three following ways through Public Private Partnership initiatives:

1. By improving the healthcare infrastructure and the healthcare delivery systems
2. By creating a favorable echo system for developing newer innovative medicines through R&D initiatives in the country
3. By taking policy measures towards a robust healthcare financing system for all strata of our society

Improving access to modern medicines:

In the Union Budget 2010–11, the Finance Minister has proposed an increase in allocation towards healthcare from Rs. 19,354 Crore to Rs. 22,300 Crore. It is expected that a significant part of this increased allocation will be utilized in improving healthcare infrastructure and delivery systems, in the country.

Moreover, extension of ‘Tax Holiday’ for hospitals set-up in rural areas from 5 to 10 years, is expected to encourage development of rural healthcare infrastructure. The Finance Minister has also proposed that ‘Tax Holiday’ will be available for hospitals set-up even outside rural areas.

The proposal for extension of health insurance to NREGA beneficiaries is also expected to have a positive impact in improving access to modern medicines within this sector of the population.

It is my strong belief that currently, improving access to healthcare in general and medicines in particular along with encouraging innovation, should be the top-priorities of our policy makers. High incidence of mortality and morbidity burden in a country like ours can only be addressed through such priority measures. It is believed that Indian Pharmaceutical Industry would always remain committed to actively support all such efforts from all corners to help achieving this objective.

Encouraging innovation:

The budgetary proposal of enhancement of scope of weighted deduction on expenditure incurred on in-house R&D to 200% and the same on payments made to national laboratories, research associations, colleges, universities and other institutions for scientific research to 175%, are welcome steps.

However, in my view only the above steps are not adequate enough to properly encourage innovation within the country. Ongoing efforts in Research & Development (R&D) would require a robust national policy environment that would encourage, protect and reward innovation. Improving healthcare environment in partnership with the Government remains a priority for the pharmaceutical industry in India.

Despite progress made over the past decades in developing new medicines for some acute and chronic illnesses by both the Indian pharmaceutical companies and R&D organizations, innovation, like in other developed countries, still remains critically important in the continuous and ever complex battle between disease and good health in India.

Other encouraging budget proposals:

The following proposals of the Finance Minister are also expected to benefit the Industry:

- An annual Health Survey to prepare the District Health Profile of all districts in 2010-11

- Uniform concessional basic duty of 5% for all medical appliances and exemption of import duty from specified inputs for the manufacture of orthopedic implants, are good initiatives.

- Reduction of Corporate surcharge from 10% to 7.5%, though corporate Minimum Alternate Tax has gone up to 18%

- Tax incentives for the business of setting up and operating “Cold Chain” infrastructure, which is an integral part in the logistics for vaccines and many biotech products

- Under section 10B, extension of sunset clause is expected to benefit the Export Oriented Units (EOUs)

Adverse impact on affordability:

Some steps taken in the Union budget may have major impact on the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry, which are as follows:

• Goods and Service Tax (GST) coming in April 1, 2011 and Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) hiked to 18% could prompt restructuring of ‘supply chain’ of many companies

• Increase in fuel prices and withdrawal of ‘Service Tax’ exemption on transportation of goods by rail, could make pharmaceutical products more expensive.

The Union Budget 2010–11, which has been largely hailed as a good budget across the industry, unfortunately does not propose much in terms of major fiscal and policy measures for the pharmaceutical industry.


Be that as it may, going beyond the budgetary expectations, the pharmaceutical industry in India should keep focusing on good corporate governance. This encompasses adherence to high ethical standards in clinical trials and in promotion of medicines, regulatory and legal compliance, being harsh on corrupt practices, addressing all issues that support good healthcare policies of the Government and takes care of the healthcare needs of the common man through inclusive business growth.

It is obvious that the Pharmaceutical Industry alone will have a limited role to play to address all the healthcare issues of the country. Important stakeholders like the Government, Corporates and the civil society in general must contribute according to their respective abilities, obligations and enlightened societal interests, towards this direction.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Telemedicine – one of the unsung advances towards improving access to healthcare services in India.

Telemedicineis gradually becoming popular in India, like in many other countries of the world. This emerging technology based healthcare service, will surely meet the unmet needs of the patients located in the far flung areas, by providing them access to specialists to treat their even tertiary level of ailments, without requiring to travel outside their villages or small towns where they reside. Telemedicine is therefore emerging as a convenient and cost-effective way of treating even complicated diseases of the rural folks.The definition:The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined telemedicine as follows:

“The delivery of healthcare services, where distance is a critical factor, by all healthcare professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for continuing education of healthcare providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities”

The applications of Telemedicine:

1. To extend affordable quality healthcare services to those places where these are not available due to basic healthcare infrastructure and delivery issues.

2. Electronic transmission of clinical information of both synchronous and asynchronous types, involving voice and data transfer of patients to distantly located experts and get their treatment advice, online.

3. To effectively train the medics and the paramedics located in distant places and proper management of healthcare delivery/service systems.

4. Disaster management.

The Process:

The process can be:

- ‘Real time’ or synchronous when through a telecommunication link real time interaction between the patients and doctors/experts can take place. This technology can be used even for tele-robotic surgery.

- ‘Non-real time’ or asynchronous type, which involves transmission of stored diagnostics/medical data and other details of the patients to the specialists for assessing off-line and advice them at a time of convenience of the specialists.

These processes facilitate access to specialists’ healthcare services by the rural patients and the rural medical practitioners reducing avoidable travel time and related expenses. At the same time such interaction helps upgrading the knowledge of the rural medical practitioners and paramedics.

Relevance of Telemedicine in India:

Telemedicine is very relevant to India as it faces a scarcity of both hospitals and medical specialists. In India for every 10,000 of the population just 0.6 doctor is available. According to the Planning Commission, India is short of 600,000 doctors, 10 lakh nurses and 200,000 dental surgeons. Over 72 percent of Indians live in rural areas where facilities of healthcare are still grossly inadequate. Most of the specialists are reluctant to go to the rural areas. In addition, 80 percent of doctors, 75 percent of dispensaries and 60 percent of hospitals, are situated in urban India.

Telemedicine can bridge the healthcare divide:

Equitable access to healthcare is the overriding goal of the National Health Policy 2002. Telemedicine has a great potential to ensure that the inequities in the access to healthcare services are adequately addressed by the country.

The market of Telemedicine in India:

Frost & Sullivan has estimated the telemedicine market of India at US$3.4 million, which is expected to record a CAGR of over 21 percent between 2007 and 2014.

Practice of Telemedicine in India:

Not only the central government of India, many state governments and private players are also entering into telemedicine in a big way with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) playing a pivotal role.

Telemedicine now shows an immense potential, within the frugal healthcare infrastructure of India, to catapult rural healthcare services, especially secondary and tertiary, to a different level altogether. Current data indicate that over 278 hospitals in India have already been provided with telemedicine facilities. 235 small hospitals including those in rural areas are now connected to 43 specialty hospitals. ISRO provides the hospitals with telemedicine systems including software, hardware, communication equipment and even satellite bandwidth.

In 1999, India based one of the largest healthcare providers in Asia, The Apollo Hospitals Group also entered into telemedicine space. Today, the group has quite successfully established over 115 telemedicine locations in India, It has been reported that a tele-consultation between the experts and the rural centre ranges from 15 to 30 minutes in these facilities.

The state governments and private hospitals are now required to allocate funds to further develop and improve penetration of Telemedicine facilities in India.

Issues with Telemedicine in India:

Telemedicine is not free from various complicated legal, social, technical and consumer related issues, which need to be addressed urgently.

- Many a time, doctors feel that for Telemedicine they need to work extra hours without commensurate monetary compensation, as per their expectations.

- The myth created that setting up and running a Telemedicine facility is expensive needs to be broken, as all these costs can be easily recovered by any hospital through nominal charges to the patients.

- Inadequate and uninterrupted availability of power supply could limit proper functioning of a telemedicine centre.

- High quality of Telemedicine related voice and data transfer is of utmost importance. Any compromise in this area may have significant impact on the treatment outcome of a patient.

- Lack of trained manpower for Telemedicine can be addressed by making it a part of regular medical college curriculum.

- Legal implications, if arise, out of any Telemedicine treatment need to be clearly articulated.

- A system needs to be worked out to prevent any possible misuse or abuse of the confidential Telemedicine treatment data of a patient.

- Reimbursement procedure of Telemedicine treatment costs by the medical insurance companies needs to be effectively addressed.


Some significant and path breaking advances have indeed been made in the field of Telemedicine in India. It is unfortunate that not enough awareness has been created, as yet, on this novel technology based healthcare service for the common man. The pioneering role of ISRO in this field is also not known to many. It appears that advances of Telemedicine in India to extend quality healthcare services, especially, to our rural folks will continue to remain unsung for some more time. Until of course our all powerful ‘Fourth Estate’ steps in to initiate a healthy discussion on this subject within the civil society.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Improving ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ in India –Public Private Partnership (PPP) is the way forward.

Despite various measures being taken by the Government of India (GoI) from time to time, around 65% of Indian population are not having access to modern medicines. It appears, GoI is of the view that the reason for poor ‘access to modern medicines’ to a vast majority of our population is intimately linked to the issue of ‘affordability of medicines’.To make medicines affordable to the common man, the Government took a radical step in 1972 by passing a law to abolish products patent in India. The change in paradigm at that time, encouraged domestic pharmaceutical players to manufacture and market even those latest and innovative drugs, which were protected by patents, n many countries of the world. The new ball game enabled the domestic players to highly specialize in ‘reverse engineering’ and launch generic versions of most of the New Chemical Entities (NCEs)at a fraction of the innovators price, in India.This shift in Paradigm in 1972, catapulted the Indian domestic pharmaceutical industry to a newer orbit of success. India in that process, over a period of time, established itself as a major force to reckon with, in the generic pharmaceutical markets of the world. Currently, the domestic pharmaceutical industry in India caters to around one third of the global requirement of generic pharmaceuticals.

From 1972 to 2005 domestic Indian pharmaceutical companies focused on replicating all most all blockbuster drugs, like for example, major Cox2 inhibitors (Merck and Pfizer), Viagra and Lipitor (Pfizer) etc, to low price generic substitutes and that too just within a year or two from the date of first launch of these products in the developed markets of the world.

In 1972, the Market share of the Indian domestic companies, as a percentage to turnovers of the total pharmaceutical industry of India, was around 20%. During the era of ‘reverse engineering’, coupled with many top class manufacturing and marketing strategies, domestic Indian pharmaceutical players wheezed past their multinational (MNCs) counterparts in the race of market share, exactly reversing the situation in 2009.

‘Reverse engineering’ was one of the key growth drivers of domestic pharmaceutical industry during this period. In its absence, during post IPR regime, the growth rate of branded generic industry is not expected to be as spectacular. However, the low cost ‘essential medicines’ will continue to be produced and marketed in India in future, as well.

Be that as it may, from 1972 to 2005, India could produce and offer even the latest NCEs, at a fraction of their international price, to the Indian population. There were as many as 40 to over 60 generic versions of each successful blockbuster drug of the world, in India. Cut-throat competition was intense and still it is, which keeps the average price of such medicines well under control. To further tighten its grip over pharmaceutical products pricing, GoI imposed stringent price control and price monitoring mechanism simultaneously, which are in place even today. Despite competitive pricing pressure coupled with Government price control, over nearly four decades, with a key policy focus on ‘affordability of medicines’, why then ‘access to modern medicine’ remained abysmal for a vast majority of the population of India?

To address this vexing problem, Industry Associations reported to have suggested a policy shift towards public-private-partnership (PPP) model to the Ministry of Chemicals and fertilizers in 2006-07. At that time, the Associations seem to have offered that the Pharmaceutical Industry will supply to the GoI the essential medicines at 50% of their Maximum Retail Price (MRP), to cater to the need of the common man, especially those who are below the poverty line (BPL).

However, to make this proposal effective there is a fundamental need for the Government to quickly initiate significant ‘capacity building’ exercise, initially in our primary and then in the secondary healthcare value chain. Towards this direction, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) reported to have suggested to the Government for an investment of around US$ 80 billion to create over 2 million hospital beds.

Frugal budget allocation (1.12%) of the GoI towards healthcare as % of GDP of the country, suggests that Government is gradually shifting its role in this very important area, primarily from healthcare provider to healthcare facilitator for the private sectors to develop it further. In such a scenario, it is imperative for the government to realize that the lack of even basic primary healthcare infrastructure, leave aside other incentives, impede effective penetration of private sectors into semi-urban and rural areas. PPP model should be worked out to address such issues, effectively.

I have highlighted the remedial measures to be taken to address this situation in my article, which can be read by clicking on the following link:

Over 70 percent of our population are located in rural India. A relatively recent study indicates that despite some major projects undertaken by the Governments, like National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), about 80 percent of doctors, 75 percent dispensaries and 60 percent of hospitals are located in urban India. Another recent initiative taken by the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) called ‘Jan Aushadhi’ is also orientated towards urban and semi-urban India.

I had deliberated upon the ways to increase penetration of ‘Jan Aushadhi’ in rural India, in another article, which can be read by clicking on the following link:

The net result of such policy initiatives, denies over 65 percent of Indian rural population from having access to quality healthcare services. Such lack of focus on rural areas, perhaps will explain the reason why only 35 percent of Indian population is having access to modern medicines.

Instead of trying to find a solution for this alarming ‘access to medicines’ problem, by limiting focus mainly on the issue of ‘affordability’ of medicines, for several decades, the Government is doing a great disservice to the common man, mainly located in the rural and semi-urban India. It is now high time that the GoI analyzes the available data to address the root cause of poor healthcare delivery, infrastructure and almost total lack of healthcare financing for all strata of Indian society.

Let me hasten to add that in no way I am trying to say that ‘affordability of medicines’ is no issue in India. All I am saying is that an integrated approach towards the root causes will quite effectively take care of ‘affordability’ issue and NOT the vice versa.

Even a problem of such magnitude can be converted into an opportunity. India can certainly be made a global hub for quality and affordable healthcare services, flashes of which we see in medical tourism initiatives.

Therefore, to address the acute problem of ‘access to modern medicines’ to a vast majority of the Indian population, GOI should reach all out to attract significant private and even foreign direct investments (FDI) through innovative Private Public Partnership initiatives. A strong will to have an ‘out of box’ solution to this critical problem is the crying need of the hour.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.