People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 25

June 23, 2013


For a Vaccine to Protect from Predatory Drug MNCs


A Kumaresan


HELD in Chennai recently, a national convention called for a countrywide people’s movement to make the government of India (GoI) commit to producing life saving and essential drugs and vaccines instead of allowing the private sector to exploit the health conditions of the poor people. It also urged the GoI to allocate five per cent of the GDP for the health sector. The amount, the taxpayers’ money, should be routed through the government and public sector so that the health and medical services could reach the entire population, instead of squandering the people’s money on insurance premiums, outright payments and subsidies for the private hospital enterprises, etc.


The national convention for “Strengthening Public Health: Medical System for People” was held on May 18, 2013, sponsored by the Tamilnadu Health Development Association (TNHDA) and Save the Children movement. On the occasion, BCG Vaccine Laboratory (BCGVL), Guindy (Chennai), Pasteur Research Institute of India (PII), Connoor, the Nilgiris and Central Research Institute (CRI) of Kasouli, Himachal Pradesh were felicitated. It is to be noted that these public sector units, who have been pioneers in producing vaccines, were closed by the union ministry of health in order to open up the market of vaccines as a hunting ground for the private sector. It was due to the firm struggle of Left parties that they were reopened. On the occasion those institutions were represented by Dr B Sekar (director, PII) and Dr Hassan (additional director, BCGVL).


Dr Rex Sargunam, president of the TNHDA, said in his presidential address that the government contribution to health is significant even in developed countries like the USA and UK, whereas in India the government is pushing the people to seek private sector health services.


Professor Prabhat Patnaik, who delivered the keynote address, said, “People’s health is intertwined with the overall economic situation of the nation. When it is claimed that there is greater economic development in India, in reality there is greater poverty, malnutrition and hunger. As per the government’s criteria, an individual getting below 2100 calories per day in an urban area or below 2200 calories in a rural area is considered to be below poverty line (BPL). Even while this assessment itself is very much under-estimated, in 1973-74 there were 56.4 per cent of people in rural areas and 60 per cent in urban areas who were BPL as per this criterion. In 2009-10, however, as per the same criterion, 76 per cent of the rural and 73 per cent of the urban people were BPL. This clearly shows that poverty has grown in India along with liberalisation.”


“During the British regime in India, per capita consumption of food per year was 200 kg which came down to 140 kg in the period following independence. Then due to various steps taken by the government the consumption registered an increase to 180 kg in the eighties. Now it has dropped to 160 kg. This decline in the amount of food consumption should be linked and seen with the drop in the per capita calorie consumption,” he added.


“The capitalist economists argue that as people become better off they do not necessarily consume more foodgrains; on the contrary they consume less foodgrains and so the fall in consumption shows an improvement. But this argument is wrong because when direct absorption of foodgrains tends to decline as incomes rise but if we take direct and indirect absorption together, this total invariably rises with incomes. So a decline in total absorption cannot possibly be indicative of people becoming better off; on the contrary it must be because vast and growing numbers are becoming worse off,” Patnaik explained.


He said, “Without changing the trajectory of growth mass poverty cannot be eliminated. During the independence struggle ‘land for tiller’ and ‘protect the farmer’ were the slogans raised. Immediately after the independence, grants and subsidies for agriculture ensured some income for the poor and small farmers. But in the period of liberalisation all such supports including bank loans were gradually withdrawn to a great extent. This has led to the utter disorder in agriculture and suicides of farmers. Alternative measures to protect farmers and agricultural workers should shield them from the onslaught of the big corporates, foreign MNCs and world market. These steps should not be a charity from the government but their basic human rights. Widespread people’s struggle is needed to make the government change the trajectory of growth.”


The CPI(M)’s Lok Sabha member from Coimbatore constituency, P R Natarajan, in his felicitation address said that vast sections of the population could be rendered credible medical service only by defending the public health system. He said, “The struggle for defending public sector vaccine producing units is a patriotic movement.”


Dr P Chandra, former director of Social Paediatrics in Stanley Medical College, said, “A second independence struggle is essential and it must be launched to protect the people from the avarice of the soulless multinational drug corporates.”

Ramesh Sundar, secretary of the Federation of Medical & Sales Representatives’ Associations of India (FMRAI), said, “Earlier foreign multinational drug companies were just 15 per cent in India. Now they were allowed to occupy 50 per cent of India’s drug industry.” He also pointed out a contradictory situation: while the health and medical system comes under the ministry of health and family welfare, drugs come under the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers!


The national convention, which was well attended by around 400 delegates representing doctors, technicians, nurses, hospital workers, health workers, medical students, medical and sales representatives, trade unionists and various other sections, exposed the nefarious designs of the central government and establishment to run down the public health and medical system and to quench the thirst of private health operator giants. The resolution passed unanimously, which called for actions mentioned above, also wished that this should become one of the national issues in the ensuing parliament elections in 2014.