Rotavac development took more than 25 years from the date of isolation of the virus strain. However,the returns on healthcare investment are phenomenal.
The Urban Health Missions plan of bringing in the private sector to fill in gaps in public healthcare infrastructure is yet to be tested,but the success of the first indigenous vaccine against rotavirus the cause of most cases of infant diarrhoea in the country can well be chronicled as a modest step in the realm of public private partnership (PPP) to deliver health services at pre-fixed rates.
In the present instance,it is a Rs 54-per-dose vaccination againt one of the biggest baby-killers in the country. However the principle can be applied elsewhere in the sector too. The model adopted by the Department of Biotechnology in its tie-up with Bharat Biotech,where it is the governments prerogative to pre-decide the price of a commodity,be it a drug or fees for healthcare services in return for its resources,in this case funds and expertise,could become the model of future.
At the same time,it depends on an increase in the measly budget of the Department of Health Research,which in 2013 was just about Rs 1,000 crore,and the output rate of our scientists. During the Eleventh Five Year Plan,no major research project on life-saving drugs was undertaken,Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told LS during the Budget session. Rotavac development took over 25 years from date of isolation of the virus strain at AIIMS. However,the returns on healthcare investment,especially in preventive initiatives like vaccination,are phenomenal.
Consider the fact that with a total expenditure of Rs 600 crore annually on all immunisation including polio,India has managed to wedge itself out of the list of polio-endemic countries. Health experts,including the Planning Commissions high level expert group behind its report,have made all the right noises about drugs being the culprit behind soaring prices of healthcare.
At a time when India is flirting with options like generics and compulsory licences to reduce the prices,outstanding R&D work by Indian scientists can not only give the government much-needed elbow room to negotiate rates with private pharma companies but also infuse some much-needed transparency into clinical trials and set standards like Rotavac attempted to in adhering to the drug controllers rulebook.
Abantika is an assistant editor based in Delhi