Access to Medicine: Losing Track in Cacophony

Indian Healthcare space is by and large an arena, where perceptions prevail over the changing reality in many important areas. Consequently, fierce discourse in those areas mostly gives rise to a cacophony of ‘Your Perceptions Against Mine’.

It is intriguing, why even in some well-hyped research studies of recent times, multiple interpretations are made not based on specific analytics-based numbers, but around critical data gaps and then the vital ‘conclusion’ is craftily packaged in a particular way to reinforce a set of perceptions and view points.

Serious discourse on ‘Access to Medicine’ in India often falls in these data crevasses, resulting nothing more than abject cynicism and expert sermons sans accountability from all quarters. Suggestions for precise quantification of magnitude of the problem, so far as ‘Access to Medicine’ is concerned, and then measuring the same periodically for sustainable corrective measures, obviously fade away in the din of multiple shrill voices, heavily loaded with self-perceptions attempting to score favorable brownie points.

A quantifiable number on overall ‘access to medicines’ remains illusive:

A quantifiable recent number on overall ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ in India, which could well form the base to measure progress of the country in this critical area subsequently, still remains illusive.

It is an irony, no one seems to know today what is the current ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ in India, in real term.

A recent study too goes around it, but NOT into it:

A 2012 industry sponsored study carried out by IMS Consulting, instead of giving just one number for overall ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ in India, went around it by reiterating the obvious that ‘access’ has 4 dimensions such as, Physical Reach, Availability/Capacity, Quality/Functionality and Affordability.

That is fine. No issue. However, the much sought after number of overall ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ still remained illusory in this study too. Interestingly, there are no numbers available to public for each of the above 4 important dimensions either. Thus the cacophony got shriller.

Clutching on to ‘Dinosaurian data’ in modern times:

Against the above backdrop, like many others, both local and global, even the honorable President of India on January 16, 2013, while addressing the ASSOCHAM 10th Knowledge Millennium Summit, quoted the ‘World Medicines Situation of 2004 report’, the base year of which is reportedly 1999. This study indicated, ‘only 35% of the population of India, against 53% in Africa and 85% in China has access to modern medicines’.

Thus in the absence of any recently updated number, the ‘Dinosaurian data’ of 1999 (published in 2004) is being considered relevant by many even in 2013, including the esteemed industry body that probably provided those irrelevant data to the president of India’s office for his speech, at the beginning of this year.

Importance of capturing today’s ‘Access’ data to provide ‘Healthcare to all’:

There should not be even an iota of doubt that the above reported scenario has changed quite significantly, at least, during the last decade in India, making the 1999 (published in 2004) ‘Access to Medicines’ numbers irrelevant, having no sense whatsoever in 2013.

To drive home this point, I shall now focus on just three sets of parameters, besides many others, to vindicate my comment on ‘dinosaurian data’. These parameters are as follows:

  1. Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) in per-capita expenditure on healthcare from 2006-11
  2. Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of the domestic pharmaceutical industry in this period
  3. Quantum of increase in use of public healthcare facilities

1. Per capita Healthcare expenditure from 2006-11:

Year US $
1999 18.2
2004 28.7
2006 33.0
2007 39.9
2008 42.7
2009 43.6
2010 51.4
2011 59.1

(Source WHO Data)

The above table vey clearly highlights that in 1999, the base year of the above study, per capita healthcare expenditure in India was just US$ 18.2. The figure rose to US$ 28.7 in year 2004, when that study was published. The number reached to US $ 59.1 in 2011. This reflects a double digit Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) in per capita healthcare expenditure of the country from the 2004 study to 2011.

No doubt, this number is still much less than many other countries. Nevertheless, in 2013, per capita healthcare expenditure in India will be even more, indicating significant increase in ‘Access’ as compared to 2004.

2. Growth of domestic pharmaceutical market

According to the PwC – CII report titled “India Pharma Inc.: Gearing up for the next level of growth”, the domestic drug market has been clocking a CAGR of more than 15 percent over the last five years. Thus, high growth of the Indian Pharmaceutical Market (IPM) since the last decade, both from the urban and the rural areas, would certainly signal towards significant increase in the domestic consumption of medicines. Moreover, fast growing rural and semi-urban markets would also clearly support the argument in favor of increasing ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ in India.

A back of the envelope calculation:

Improvement in access as compared to what ‘World Medicines Situation of 2004 report’ had highlighted, may not have a linear relationship to the volume growth of the industry during this period. However, a large part of this growth could indeed be attributed to increase in overall consumption of drugs, leading to improvement in access to medicines in India.

For example, out of the reported 15 percent CAGR of the IPM, if one attributes just 8 percent volume growth/year to increased access to drugs, a back of the envelope calculation would indicate that during last nine years over the base year of 2004, the access to medicines has improved at least to 70 percent of the population, if not more, and has NOT remained just at 35 percent, as many tend to establish a point or two by quoting the above dated report.

Unfortunately, even the Government of India does not seem to be aware of this gradually improving trend, as evidenced in the honorable President of India’s speech in 2013, as quoted above. Official communications of the government also keep quoting the outdated statistics stating that 65 percent of the population of India does not have ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ even today.

Be that as it may, around 30 percent of Indian population would still perhaps not have ‘Access to Medicines’ in India. This issue needs immediate attention of the policy makers and can possibly be achieved through effective implementation of a holistic public health policy model like, ‘Universal Health Care (UHC)’.

3. Increase in use of public healthcare facilities:

According to a study done by the IMS Consulting Group in 2012, in rural India, which constitutes around 70 percent of the total 1.2 billion populations of India, usage of Government facilities for Out Patient (OP) care has increased from 22 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2012, mainly due to the impact of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). This increase will have significant impact in reducing ‘Out of pocket (OoP)’ healthcare expenses of the rural poor.

Overall impact on some key health indicators: 

The same 2012 study of IMS Consulting highlights that an objective and comprehensive assessment of healthcare access in India was last undertaken in 2004, through a survey performed by the National Survey Sample Organization (NSSO). 
The survey reported on multiple parameters related to healthcare, including morbidity in broad age groups, immunization status, episodes of outpatient/ inpatient treatment across geography/ income segments together with expenditure on treatment. These measures, the study indicates, were taken collectively to indicate the status of healthcare access.

According to this report, the Government of India had undertaken multiple programs to improve healthcare access. These programs have addressed numerous issues, in varying proportion, that are linked to healthcare access, including lack of infrastructure, high cost of treatment, and the quality and availability of treatment. Some of these programs have been enormously successful: for example, India is a polio-free country today, the study reinforces.

The study also highlights significant progress in some basic healthcare indicators. The examples cited are as follows:

  • Maternal mortality rate has decreased by ~50 percent, and was reported at 200 deaths per 100,000 live births in the year 2010 as compared to 390 a decade ago. A few states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Kerala have already achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of a maternal mortality ratio less than 109 maternal death per 100,000 live births, with multiple other states close to achieving this target.
  • Infant mortality rate has decreased by greater than 25 percent over the period 2000–2009, and was reported at 50 deaths per 1,000 live births. Correspondingly, the under-5 child mortality rate (U5MR) has decreased by similar percentage levels, and was reported at 64 deaths per 1,000 live births. While U5MR for urban India has achieved the MDG target of 42 the same for rural of 71 is significantly lagging the target level.
  • Immunization coverage has increased significantly, for example diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis immunization among 1 year olds has increased from 60% to 70%, and the Hepatitis B coverage has increased from 68% in 2005 to 91% in 2010.
  • National programs have successfully improved detection and cure rates for tuberculosis and leprosy.

No direct relationship established between healthcare spend and outcomes:

Though India’s per-capita healthcare spend has been lowest among the usually compared BRIC countries, the following quick example would clearly establish that the healthcare outcomes do not have a linear relationship with the per-capita healthcare spend either:

Per capita Healthcare expenditure in 2011: Country Comparison

Country US $ World Rank Physician/1000 people Hospital/1000 people Life expectancy at birth (years)
Brazil 1120.56   41 1.76 2.3 73.4
Russia 806.7   55 4.31 9.6 69.0
India 59.1 152 0.65 0.9 67.08
China 278.02   99 1.82 3.8 73.5 

(Source: WHO data)

Thus, taking a cue from these numbers, India should decide at what percapita spend the country would possibly be able to ensure quality ‘access’ to healthcare for 100 percent of its population. Mere, comparison of percapita spend of each country, I reckon, may thus not mean much.


The moot point, I reckon, is that, to measure progress in any sphere of activity, one will need to have a robust well-derived base point. Thereafter, progress needs to be monitored and quantified periodically from one point to the next.

So far as the access to healthcare in general and medicines in particular are concerned, it becomes difficult to fathom why is this basic approach still not being considered to measure progress in ‘Access’ and its rate in India.

As a result, discussions among the stakeholders do not take place around those updated numbers, either. Instead, what we hear is a high decibel cacophony of perceptions, at times groping around various dimensions of ‘Access’ and that too without quantification of each, as stated above.  This makes the task all the more complicated in pursuit of providing ‘Healthcare to All’ in India.

That said, the question to ponder now:

Does any one know what is the current ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ number in India and at what rate the progress is being made in that direction to achieve ‘Health for All’ objective of the country?

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.

Tracking MDG 6 in India – not a mean achievement to combat the dreaded disease

At the turn of the new millennium, in 2000, 189 nations of the world under the banner of United Nations Development Program took a pledge to free people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations.

This global pledge for humanity on eight key areas was termed as the ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDG)’, which the global community should achieve by 2015. Again in September 2010, the world reiterated its pledge to hasten progress towards achieving these goals within the same pre-scheduled time period.

Combating HIV/AIDS is the sixth of the eight MDGs that India, along with other 188 nations, is expected to achieve by 2015.

Looking Back:

Way back in late 1986, the first incidence HIV in India was diagnosed among the sex workers in Chennai. The origin of the infection was reported to be from the foreign visitors.

The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) was constituted in the following year and by end 1987, around 135 persons were diagnosed as HIV positive and 14 were suffering from AIDS. Almost around the same time, a rapid spread of HIV was reported from within the ‘Injecting Drug Users (IDU)’ in Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. Incidentally, all these states have a common border with Myanmar.

According to the first joint survey conducted by UNAIDS and NACO in 2007, the number of people living with HIV in India was estimated between 2 million and 3.1 million. In 2009 this estimated number declined to 2.4 million.

As per the Government of India (March 1, 2011), there has been an overall reduction in adult HIV prevalence and HIV incidence (new infections) in the country. The estimated number of new annual HIV infections has declined by more than 50% over the last decade, from estimated 2.7 lakhs in 2000 to approximately 1.2 lakhs in 2009. Adult HIV prevalence at national level has declined from 0.41% in 2000 to 0.31% in 2009, although variations exist across the states.

Some actionable areas:

As reported by the National Aids Control Organization (NACO), ‘Injecting Drug Use (IDU)’ and sexual intercourse through homosexual route by some section of the male population have still remained the routes of transmission of HIV in different parts of India, which need to be addressed with a much greater detail.

In the North Eastern States, besides IDU, HIV prevalence among the Female Sex Workers (FSW) is increasing. This suggests a two-prong spread of the pandemic infection in the country.

Moreover, HIV prevalence within the women attending Ante Natal Clinics (ANCs) in North Indian states also needs to be addressed with utmost care.

HIV/AIDS and Drug Prices:

Pricing of HIV/AIDS drugs are globally a very sensitive issue. Currently, because of the availability of many generic drugs, intense competition between them and direct price negotiation for newer brands, there has been a declining price trend for many HIV/AIDS medicines in the developing countries, like India.

This situation has enabled about 5.25 million HIV positive persons from the developing countries to undergo treatment for the acquired infection.

In India, people living with HIV/AIDS have access to Anti-retroviral (ART) drugs, free of cost, through 292 ART Therapy centers and 550 Link ART Centers spread across the country.

As per the Ministry of Health (February 22, 2011), there is no gap between demand and supply of drugs for the HIV/AIDS patients in the country. About 3, 87,205 patients are on ART therapy through the above centers (2010).

Recently product patents for two key HIV/AIDS medicines namely, Lopinavir/Ritonavir and Atazanavir bisulphate were not granted by the Indian Patent Office giving reasons of ‘lacked inventive ingenuity’. Though, this is a patent law related legal issue, it has been hyped up as a ‘major victory for public health and access to affordable treatment’.

I hasten to add, despite this situation, all drugs used for the treatment of HIV/ AIDS are still not available at an affordable price to the poor, across the world.

Funding for HIV/AIDS treatment in India:

The Finance Minister of India in his Union Budget proposal for 2011-12 allocated a sum of Rs. 1700 Crore (around US$ 380 million ) as against an outlay of Rs.1435 Crore (around US$ 320 million) in 2010-11 for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Market Size of HIV/AIDS Drugs:

Current market size of HIV drugs is around Rs. 151 Crores  (around US$ 36 million) growing at 11% over the previous year. As per reported data, around 10 HIV drugs are now being marketed in India with 162 different brand names by over 30 companies including, Cipla, FDC, Torrent, Hetero, Sun Pharma, Lupin, Ranbaxy, Zydus Cadila, Natco, Alkem and GSK.

Globally Gilead, Abbott, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and BMS are among the key manufacturers of HIV drugs.

The world market size for HIV Drugs is estimated to exceed US $15.5 billion by 2015. The key growth driver is still increasing disease prevalence in some countries of the world. Treatment of HIV/AIDS with cheaper Anti-retroviral (ART) drugs has transformed the treatment of this dreaded disease into a manageable proportion.

Unique initiative of UNITAIDS:

For diseases like HIV/AIDS, one school of thought leaders feel that the way forward to resolve such pricing issue is by putting in place an alternative system of ‘remuneration and reward’ to further R&D initiatives in the key areas of public health interest, globally.

Towards this direction, in 2009 UNITAID, an international institution against AIDS, TB and malaria, proposed the ‘Patent Pools’ concept. This system of ‘pool’ will hold licenses on various patented HIV/AIDS drugs, which the generic manufacturers will be allowed to produce at a much lesser price for the least developing countries of the world.

National Institute of Health (NIH) of USA has now become the first patent holder to license a HIV/AIDS drug Darunavir to the patent pool. It appears, the ‘Patent Pool’ initiative to be successful, voluntary participation of larger global pharmaceutical companies is absolutely critical, though many innovator companies may not find any significant commercial benefit within this system.

Will HIV Vaccine be the ultimate answer?

Still with so many newly infected people with HIV every day in various corners of the world, a suitable vaccine to prevent the infection would indeed be indispensable to effectively control this disease. An affordable HIV vaccine could thus be an appropriate answer to fight against HIV/AIDS across the world.

Early In March 2011, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI), of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India announced together to fund an HIV vaccine design program in India. This HIV vaccine initiative is estimated to cost around Rs.50 Crore (around US$ 12 million) over a five year period.

Recent Developments:

Early this year, UNAIDS/WHO/UNDP launched a new policy brief urging countries to use IP flexibilities under the TRIPS Agreement.

The brief includes flexibilities like, compulsory licensing, parallel imports exemption of ‘Bolar Provision’ and highlights the success achieved in reducing prices in Brazil through the threat of compulsory licensing. The brief also highlights India’s 3(d) provision.


In India, although the overall progress of MDG initiatives is not satisfactory just yet, ongoing intense efforts to control and treat HIV/AIDS seem to be paying good dividends.

It is interesting to note, UNAIDS ‘Outlook Report 2010’ highlights, “Up to 80% of the cost of treatment isn’t for the medication but for the systems to get it to a person and to keep him or her on it. Globally, only one third of people who need treatment are on it.” I reckon, the situation is no different in India.

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.

Progress of the ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’ in India: a little to cheer, more to ponder

The world has just five more years to achieve the ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’. To accelerate progress of this unique United Nation’s initiative the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York on 20-22 September 2010. Under this back-drop let us deliberate on the progress made by India on this global project.

The ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’:

These are eight time-bound comprehensive developmental goals, both global and country-specific, adopted by the world leaders in the year 2000, with clearly defined benchmarks and targets to achieve by the year 2015, encompassing even the healthcare space. The key purpose of the MDGs is to address multi-dimensional issues and manifestations of extreme poverty prevailing in the world. The eight MDGs, which have been clearly divided into 18 quantifiable targets and evaluated by 48 indicators, are as follows.

1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2: Achieve universal primary education
3: Promote gender equality and empower women
4: Reduce child mortality
5: Improve maternal health
6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7: Ensure environmental sustainability
8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

What happens, if these goals are achieved?

MDGs provide a unique platform to the civil society across the nations to work in unison with common objectives to ensure equitable distribution of the outcome of human development in all countries of the world. If the MDGs are achieved by all the nations, it is believed, ‘world poverty will be cut by half, tens of millions of lives will be saved, and billions more people will have the opportunity to benefit from the global economy’.

UNDP score card and forecast:

The first India country-report on the MDGs for the year 2005 was released by the Government of India on February 13, 2006 in Delhi. Now with just five more years to go, let me take you through the following broad and major findings from an assessment report prepared by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2009 on the same:

1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger:

Set objective: India must reduce the number of people below the poverty line from around 37,5% in 1990 to around 18.75% in 2015.


• Absolute number of poor has declined from 320 million (36% of population) in 1993-94 to 301 million (27.6% of total population) in 2004-05. At this rate, the country will still have 279 million people (22.1%) living below the poverty line in 2015.

• India is slow in eliminating the effects of malnutrition, going by the proportion of underweight children below three years of age. This proportion has declined only marginally from about 47 in 1998-99 to about 46 percent in 2005-06. At this rate, 40% of children will still remain underweight by 2015.

2: Achieve universal primary education:

Set objective: India should increase the primary school enrolment rate to 100% and wipe out the drop-outs by 2015 against 41.96% in 1991-92.

Progress: Going at the rate by which youth literacy increased between 1991 and 2001, from 61.9% to 76.4%, India is expected to have 100 percent youth literacy by the end of 2012.

3: Promote gender equality and empower women:

Set objective: India will promote female participation at all levels to reach a female: male proportion of equal levels by 2015.

Progress: Gender parity in primary and secondary education is likely to be achieved, though not in tertiary education. But the share of women in wage employment in the non-farm sector can at best be expected to reach a level of about 24% by 2015, far short of parity.

4: Reduce child mortality:

Set objective: India will reduce under- five mortality rate (U5MR) from 125 deaths per thousand live births in 1988-92 to 42 in 2015.

Progress: Prevalence of child mortality is down from 125 per thousand live births in 1990 to 74.6 per thousand live births in 2005-06. At this rate, the level is expected to reach 70 per thousand by 2015, short of the target of 42 per thousand live births by 2015.

5: Improve maternal health:

Set objective: India should reduce maternal mortality rate (MMR) from 437 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1991 to 109 by 2015.

Progress: The national MMR level has come down from 398 per 100,000 live births in 1997‐98 to 254 per 100,000 live births in 2004‐06, a 36% decline over a span of seven years as compared to a 25% decline in the preceding eight years from 1990‐1997. Given to achieve an MMR of 109 per 100,000 live births by 2015, India tends to fall short by about 26 points as it tends to reach MMR of about 135 per 100,000 live births in 2015.

6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases:

Set objective: India has a low prevalence of HIV among pregnant women as compared to other developing countries, yet the prevalence rate has increased from 0.74 per thousand pregnant women in 2002 to 0.86 in 2003. The increasing trend needs to be reversed by 2015.


• Spread of HIV/AIDS in the country shows a downward trend: from 2.73 million (0.45%) people living with HIV/AIDS in 2002, the number has declined to 2.31 million (0.34%) by 2007.

• With 1.9 million tuberculosis cases estimated in 2008, India has a fifth of the world’s total. But India made the most notable progress in providing treatment across the country. In 2008, over 1.5 million patients were enrolled for treatment.

7: Ensure environmental sustainability:

Set objectives:

• Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources.

• Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation


• During the past decade, India’s forest cover has increased by 728 sq. km, access to water is up from 68.2% in 1992-93 to 84.4% in 2007-08 and in urban areas it is 95%.

• 2015 Target (83%) for proportion of households without access to safe drinking water sources has already been attained by 2007‐08 (84%).

• At the current rate of decline, India is likely to have the proportion of households without any sanitation reduced to about 46% by 2015 against the target of 38%.

8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development:

Set objective: Co-operation with the private sector and making available the benefits of new technologies.

Progress: Overall tele-density has remarkably increased from 0.67 per 100 population in 1991 to 36.98 per 100 population in March 2009.


Though in some areas of MDGs like, achieving universal primary education, combating HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development, India has something to cheer about. However, in other areas the progress made by the country, as on date, is far from satisfactory, as there are more key issues to ponder. The main reasons of inadequacy in these areas being low public spend of around 1.1% of GDP on health and 4.1% on education.

Moreover, the awareness, contribution and involvement of other stakeholders like Corporates, NGOs and the Civil Society at large in most of the states of India, if not all, in this commendable global initiative is dismal, to say the least.

If India wants to come out with flying colors by end 2015 in its efforts to effectively address multi-dimensional issues and manifestations of extreme poverty and hunger prevailing in the country, the Country assessment report prepared by the UNDP in 2009 on MDGs, should be taken as the ‘wake-up’ call to make good the lost time– as the saying goes ‘better late than never’.

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.