The Financial Express, 13th March 03

New Delhi, March 12: With affordable health care continuing to elude a large section of population in poor countries, experts believe that steps need to be taken both domestically and at the multilateral level to improve access to cheap medicines.

To ensure that countries with low manufacturing capacities don’t lose their right to buy low-cost generic medicines from non-patent holding manufacturers, the US should not be allowed to restrict the scope of the pending agreement on TRIPS & Public Health, experts add.

Speaking at a workshop on promoting health for the poor under the aegis of Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) here on Wednesday, Zafrullah Chowdhury, Gonoshasthaya Kendra, Bangladesh, pointed out that although a commitment was made at the Doha ministerial meet to ensure access to cheap medicines for developing countries, the US had single-handedly blocked it.

Developing nations including India should not accept a diluted version of the TRIPS & Public Health Agreement, said James Love, director, Consumer Project on Technology, USA. “Getting a bad deal is worse than not getting a deal,” he said, adding that if the US didn’t relent, developing countries should look for alternative ways outside the Agreement.

Speaking on the occasion, Rama Baru from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) emphasised the need for greater government focus on traditional medicines as these were not just a cheaper option but were increasingly being perceived as a system which went beyond the limits of allopathy.

Although, allopathy and the Indian System of Medicine (which includes Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha) could work very well together, Dr Baru said that allopathy practitioners were averse to such an idea. The allopathy stream resisted the thought of integrating with the traditional system. Dr Baru added that the Union Budget reflected the preference of policy makers for the allopathy system as the allocations made for it was several times higher than that made for the traditional system.

Community based health insurance could be one way of providing health care to the poor, said Akash Acharya from the Tribhuvandas Foundation.