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Govt denies bird flu medicine procured under MNCs pressure

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Mar 22: Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss today denied charge that the government purchased costly anti-viral drugs for avian flu under the influence of multi-national companies and said that 70 percent of the Rs seven crore worth of medicines were procured from an Indian pharma company.

In a suo-motu statement made in the Rajya Sabha today, Dr Ramadoss said that purchases were made on the recommendation of an Inter Ministerial Task Force of Secretaries that decided to create a national stockpile of anti viral drugs as a part of Contingency Plan for handling any out break of Avian Influenza in the country.

This was done as per the guidelines of the World Health Organisation which stipulated minimum quantity required for the national stockpile is one lakh courses of anti viral drugs. WHO also provided 2000 courses of Tamiflu, a drug patented by the international pharmaceutical company, Roche, to the Union Government from its own stock.

Expressing concern over the impression created by some MPs that the Government has purchased millions of costly anti viral drugs under the influence of multi-national companies neglecting the Indian pharmaceutical companies, Dr Ramadoss said the Government has procured 70 per cent of the total quantity of the anti viral drugs from Indian pharmaceutical company Hetero Drugs Limited.

''The Government has followed a very transparent procedure in procuring anti viral drugs for Avian Influenza and further that it has not acted under influence of any MNC. I am pained to state that responsible people have made statements about a serious public health hazard in a frivolous manner and have questioned the earnestness, sincerity and integrity of this Government in responding to the crisis. It is my request that persons holding responsible positions should not allow themselves to be subjected to misinformation by vested groups.'' He said the Government over the last one and a half-year has been preparing itself for handling any outbreak of avian influenza in the country. As per the WHO guidelines, Pandemic Preparedness plan, Contingency Plan and State Action Plan have been duly prepared.

Meetings have been held with all State Health Secretaries and he held wide consultations with various stakeholders on the Preparedness Plan. Cabinet Secretary has been reviewing the preparedness on monthly basis. The Union Cabinet has also taken stock of the situation periodically.

The minister said that as part of the Contingency Plan, it was decided by a Committee of Secretaries to create a national stockpile of anti viral drugs of one lakh courses in accordance with WHO guidelines. This is also the minimum quantity required and mercifully the virus has not started transmitting from human to human.

The quantity of one lakh courses has since been procured at an approximate cost of Rs seven crore only from M/s Roche and from M/s Hetero Drugs Ltd. It is to be noted that India procured 70 percent of the total quantity from Hetero Drugs Ltd. The decision was taken as Hetero Drugs offered immediate supply of one lakh courses while both Cipla and Ranbaxy informed the Task Force that they would need more time to determine the price at which they could offer their drug to the Government of India.

Accordingly, it was decided to procure 50,000 courses of Oseltamivir Phosphate from Hetero Drugs Limited at Rs.600.00 + Excise Duty + Sales Tax, total cost for Rs.724/- per pack of ten capsules. Hetero Drugs gave an additional discount of 2 per cent on their quoted price.

An order for 30,000 courses of Tamiflu was placed with Roche for delivery by March/April, 2006. When the outbreak of Avian Influenza was announced at Navapur in February this year, another 20,000 courses were purchased from Hetero Drugs Limited.

It is during this time that Cipla announced through the media that it too had developed its own version of Tamiflu and would market the same in the brand name of Anti Flu. Cipla had also received marketing approval from the Drug Controller General of India in February, 2006. Therefore, it was not in a position to have supplied the drug in October-December 2005, when the orders were placed by the Government.

The government has procured 1 lakh courses of Oseltamivir at an approximate cost of Rs 7 crore. Of the total quantity of 1 lakh, 70000 were procured from Hetero Drugs Limited and 30,000 courses have been procured from Roche. Presently the Government has stockpile of 97,795 courses and it is felt that for the present additional quantities are not required.

However, to plan for future requirements, trade enquiries were floated and it is understood that Cipla too has quoted a price of around Rs.700/- per pack of 10 capsules, he added.


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