MPs ask govt to promote inexpensive drugs, tighten reins on pharma lobby

Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla briefed the MPs on steps taken to check Covid-19 and preparations
A parliamentary panel on Wednesday asked the government whether a national plan to deal with Covid-19 was in the works, and how it planned to ensure availability of affordable medicines, like Remdesivir, cap prices of drugs and prevent black marketing.

A dozen of the 30 MPs, who are members of the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs, headed by Congress’s Anand Sharma, attended the meeting with social distancing norms in place.

Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla briefed the MPs on steps taken to check Covid-19 and preparations. Officials, including those from the health ministry, said India would have had 5 million cases, with 150,000 deaths, by August if a lockdown was not put in place by the third week of March.

All MPs, cutting across party lines, sought to know from health ministry officials about the availability of medicines. Bharatiya Janata Party’s Anil Jain, a medical doctor himself, asked if steps were being taken to check expensive medicines that pharmaceutical lobbies are pushing in the market. Some MPs suggested names of cheaper generic alternatives, and asked the government why it doesn’t promote these medicines and encourage local manufacture.

There were questions on the lack of assistance from the Centre to the state governments by opposition MPs. BJP’s Neeraj Shekhar flagged the issue of migrant workers not getting their wages.

Sources said railways officials did not have state-wise data on workers who travelled on Shramik special trains.

The members suggested that the government put in place national, state and district level plans under the National Disaster Management Act to handle the Covid-19 pandemic. They also suggested amending the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to include the pandemic.

Questions were also asked on the availability of a vaccine or a drug to cure Covid-19. The health ministry officials said work was afoot, but did not give any timelines.

The meeting lasted for nearly three hours.

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