“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).