The Loot That Passes for Medicine
“This is the latest whiz kid among cardiac stents. Nowhere else in the world you will have a stent like this. I have done 56 so far. No complications at all, affordable too.”
 
This is how a cardiologist starts his live streaming video at the National Interventional Council (NIC) conference in a five-star hotel in Delhi; the conference organisers received several crores of rupees for the extravaganza. Newspaper advertisements and TV serials are old hat now. Medical advertisements and publicity look like kindergarten stuff. Now live streaming of a flamboyant cardiologist in a so-called medical conference, where normally the science of medicine is debated, is the ‘in’ thing. Even the Chinese device-maker, whose stent has not been passed by the great Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is one of the sponsors and must have also paid crores of rupees. 
 
How much will this brand ambassador, the flamboyant cardiologist, get? Where is medical ethics? What is the Medical Council of India (MCI), the watchdog responsible for keeping an eye on medical ethics, doing, apart from twiddling its thumbs? What ethics does MCI follow for itself in regulating medical education? What have we come to and what about the safety of patients who go to the hospitals? Today, a case can be made out for angioplasty, for anyone of any age, who goes to the hospital, as coronary artery blocks (not coronary artery disease) can be demonstrated in anyone, including children. In this scenario who is safe?
 
Pharma companies plotted to destroy cancer drugs to drive up prices. After purchasing five different cancer drugs from GlaxoSmithKline, Aspen Pharmacare tried to sell them in Europe for up to 40 times their previous price. That’s another headline (Sunday Times, 15 April 2017). Busulfan is an old medication for treating leukaemia. It used to sell in England for £5.20 a couple of years ago and now sells at £65.20. While bargaining for the rise in price of cancer drugs in Spain, the company wanted to raise the price by 4,000 times! When the government did not agree, the company threatened to stop supply of the cancer drug in that country. In fact, it might have been a great boon for the Spaniards to live without the dangers of these anti-cancer drugs!
 
The Cover Story of Outlook magazine dated 17 April 2017 exposes something even worse. We have been fighting a losing battle against vaccinations for decades. Outlook writes, under the headline, “When a Baby Is a Business Opportunity”: “Scared middle class India buys unwanted vaccines, some15 of them, as big pharma— mostly foreign—helps doctors to rake in the moolah with 30%-300% mark-ups.”
 
The more dangerous trend is that the Indian Academy of Paediatricians (IAP), the apex body of child specialists in the country, has now been found to be a partner in this venal business. On 20 January2017, Dr Vipin Vashista, a former convener of IAP, was unceremoniously eased out for blowing the whistle on the big money nexus in IAP. The Union health ministry, I am told, is in the know of things, but prefers to do nothing.  Maybe the ministry is afraid of the bigwigs in the vaccine business.
 
Are we willing to bring forth a generation of Indians with crippled immune system, thanks to so many useless and dangerous vaccines administered to them when they are born? Parents are confused in the cacophony of vaccine threats and advertisements. Another good soul fighting for the voiceless infants is Dr Jacob Puliyal in Delhi.
 
We are already in the dark ages of money which James Kennedy, a journalist, calls ‘monetary fascism’. “Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics claimed to have refined and developed modern, scientific tools of ‘free market capitalism’; capable of unlocking ever greater rewards from Adam Smith’s simple, primitive concept of free markets… In truth, it was nothing more than a cloak of deception—providing cover for the unscrupulous behaviour of investment bankers, corporate raiders, speculators, off-shore corporation, debt mongers and bubble pushers (typically, one and the same). 
Comments
Chandramohan Navalekar
4 years ago
you are doing great work of exposing such practices, this keeps the hope of some ethical practices to come up in future.
bharati
4 years ago
How do we support brave Drs like Dr Vipin Vashista? The media could write about him regularly, interview him, etc.
Rahul Pande
4 years ago
Kudos to money life for raising relevant and pressing issues.I feel fighting a losing battle but keep trying.
PRAKASH D N
4 years ago
More such problems will come up as Govt. does not want to invest in public health, leaving it to private sector to loot the public. Agencies which are required to act like M C I blinks it's eye as those heading the MC I has questionable background. Only public outcry with the backing of learned people like Dr. Hedge can save
Ashok Visvanathan
4 years ago
Have sympathy for the French fathers. A rumour got started decades ago that a baby which only drank EVIAN water would be very healthy. All french mothers give only Evian water to their babies. Evian water bottle in India used to be Rs 250 a few years ago.
The Evian company has never bothered to contradict the rumour.
Parikshit Bhandari
4 years ago
Great article Sir People Like you are God Sent and thanks to Moneylife for Promoting Such Articles.
Ramesh Poapt
4 years ago
great, sir!
Simple Indian
4 years ago
Another fine article by Dr. Hegde. It's a pity, medical practice, once one of two most respected professions, has stooped to such levels. Apart from the greed of MNC pharma cos it's also our own flawed medical system which is to blame for the situation. Govts in India should setup more medical colleges and hospitals which should be the backbone of our healthcare system, instead of having to rely on private clinics and hospitals which fleece patients and leave their families bankrupt by the time their treatment is over. Medical education in private colleges is hugely expensive, leaving graduates with no choice but to take up lucrative ways to practice, even if it's against their 'Hippocratic Oath' or medical ethics. All this to 'recover' the expenses incurred by them for their medical degrees, be it MBBS or MD/MS. Unless such systemic flaws are corrected, people will continue to get fleeced by dishonest and greedy doctors/clinics/hospitals/path labs.
Joginder Singh
4 years ago
THE loot is more rampant in the pre birth stage. Don't know about other parts of India, but in Punjab, most expecting mothers are advised to go for regular health check to private doctors and most are advised complete bed rest for full term and are told some scary complication thereby suggesting weekly check ups and tests. There used to be no complications when there were not so many clinics around. Now all these clinics have to earn crores and crores of rupees and hence complications have to increase and have increased, Patients are even scammed into getting admitted for the last semester to sell their rooms and delivery packages are marketed in lac's of Rupees. Health Care industry becomes huge Health Scare industry. Clinics having Trauma Centers extract even last drop of money from the relatives wallets - whether it takes leaving the dead on Ventilator for inflating the bills or pretending to inject most pricey injections costing thousands of rupees.
4 years ago
Please update on readers views on this issue.
CHETAN BALWIR
4 years ago
Dear Doctor,
Many corporate institutions have a compulsory annual health check up for their employees. Can you please give us your views on this.
Ankur Bamne
4 years ago
Why doesn't moneylife promote ethical investing if pharma companies are such big crooks? There was a divis labs in this years super stock portfolio. Please do not have these double standards. You want the stock to outperform, but also complain about the prices in the next issue. Please stop this double talk, and decide which way of the fence you want to be.
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