10 AUG, 2012, 02.10AM IST, KHOMBA SINGH,ET BUREAU
NEW DELHI: If pharmaceutical companies and drug regulators in India have been lately facing scrutiny in greater and vicious doses, some of it can be traced to the dogged inquisitions of a young, first-time parliamentarian: Jyoti Mirdha. This Congress MP is one of the 31 members in a parliamentary committee that voluntarily examines healthcare issues, but she is making her presence felt with her proactive work and, some say, her anti-industry policy positions.
Sample this. In July, about a month after Mirdha wrote to the prime minister, the government pulled out of cold storage a code of conduct for companies on dealings with doctors and promised to notify it in August.
Earlier, in May, she made a presentation to the group of ministers (GoM) on the new drug pricing policy, making a case to bring all drugs under price regulation. That same month, the parliamentary committee, based on a report by a sub-committee of which she was the convenor, alleged lapses and corruption in the process of drug approvals, shaming several frontline companies and hauling up the lead drug regulator. “She is the driving force behind the report,” says Ramesh Adige, the former head of regulatory affairs at Ranbaxy Laboratories.
For all the attention her work is drawing, the Lok Sabha MP from Nagaur in Rajasthan is reluctant to talk about it, or herself. “…if you dig slightly deeper, you’ll know I don’t interview!” she initially emailed ET in response to a request for an interview. She later relented, but only to clarify her stand on issues raised by her.
What is known about Mirdha is that she is the grand-daughter of late Nathuram Mirdha, a veteran politician. Her profile page on the Lok Sabha website shows that Mirdha graduated as a doctor from SMS Medical College, Jaipur, and lists her ‘special interests’ as “water resources, alternative medicine (especially nutrition) & renewable energy”.
The medical education appears to be holding her in good stead today as she is voicing her opinion on a range of issues relating to the pharma industry, including drug pricing, clinical trials, acquisitions by foreign companies and marketing practices.
Describing her as “passionate and sincere”, Dr Sanjay Jaiswal, another committee member and BJP MP, says: “She is well-prepared, with loads of information.” Adds Lalit Kumar Jain, a lobbyist for small drug manufacturers: “She is also close to some NGOs and drug regulatory experts who are working in public interest. They provide her all the requisite information.”
Keeping Distance from Drug Companies
Mirdha is also seen to keep a distance from pharma companies. “She has no conflict of interest,” says Jaiswal, adding that she has, at times, even asked committee members to abstain from discussion on issues where they had a business interest.
At least three of Mirdha’s policy positions have riled industry players: controls on pricing of all drugs; mandatory rules and penalties to govern the company-doctor relationship; and controls over foreign investment in Indian companies. “When policies are made, you should look at the welfare of 120 crore people, and not that of a few individuals or companies to further their limited interest,” she says. “I’m all for industry if it means productivity, enterprise and innovation. But if it means exploitation or extortion, then you could label me anti-industry.”
Mirdha feels prices of all drugs should be regulated, not just those based on 74 ingredients (out of 900-odd), as is the case now. “A cost-based mechanism is the only effective way to regulate prices of drugs,” she told ET in May. “Companies have been found to be selling at multiple times the cost price and market-based pricing would further support it.”
When the department of pharmaceuticals put out a draft of the drug pricing policy and invited public comments, she was the sole MP to respond, resulting in the GoM on drug pricing inviting her to make a representation. Mirdha made a 29-slide presentation to the GoM, the central idea of which was to bring all drugs under price regulation, something the industry is strongly opposed to.
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