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- Rethinking the old ways – Pharma Sector
- How negligence and violations led to Vishakhapatnam Gas leak case?
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1.Rethinking the old ways – Pharma Sector
Source – The Hindu
Syllabus – GS 3 – Biotechnology and issues relating to intellectual property rights
Context – Business model of pharma sector needs to change in new post-corona world
Current model of business – Commercial Pharma Companies
Medicines are among humanity’s greatest achievements.
- Global market for pharmaceuticals is currently worth Rs. 110 lakh crore annually- 1.7% of the gross world product.
- 55% of this global pharmaceutical spending ( Rs.60 lakh crore) is for brand-name products, which are typically under patent.
Figure 1 – Production and marketing in Pharma sector
Issues with this model
- Monopoly– Patenting of medicines leads to monopoly of company in market. This enables them to sell their new products without competition at a price far above manufacture and distribution costs.
- Unaffordable for poor– The higher price of patented medicine is harmful for poor people who can’t afford to buy them and leads to vicious cycle of poverty for generations.
Figure 2 – Vicious cycle of poverty
- Neglect of diseases–Companies motivated by the prospect of profit tend to neglect diseases suffered mainly by poor people, who cannot afford expensive medicines. The 20 World Health Organization-listed neglected tropical diseases together afflict over one billion people but attract only 0.35% of the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D. Merely 0.12% of this R&D spending is devoted to tuberculosis and malaria, which kill 1.7 lakh people each year.
- Ill-effect of insurance– Due to presence of a large number of affluent or well-insured patients, companies tend to set high prices of medicines to maximize their profit.
Suggested Solution – Health Impact Fund – It is as an alternative track on which pharmaceutical innovators may choose to be rewarded. Any new medicine registered with the Fund would have to be sold at or below the cost of manufacture and distribution, but would earn ten annual reward payments based on the health gains achieved with it.
Advantages of the Health Impact Fund
- Funding from diverse sources – Government budgeting for health sector and international taxes on carbon emission are few of the sources from which fund can be collected for same.
- Favors unprofitable pharmaceutical companies– The Fund would get pharmaceutical firms interested in certain R&D projects that are unprofitable under the current regime — especially ones expected to produce large health gains among mostly poor people. Such projects would predominantly address communicable diseases.
- R&D in neglected diseases– This fund will encourage companies to do R&D in neglected tropical diseases. With the Fund in place, there would be much deeper and broader knowledge about such diseases. This will pave way for effective interventions and greater capacities for developing additional, more targeted responses quickly.
- Helpful in pandemics– Government’s regulations to use compulsory license system disincentives commercial pharma companies to develop vaccines or medicines to tackle pandemics. This fund will be helpful in situations where the cost of R&D is very high.
Way Forward – In post corona world new methods are needed to resolve the most fundamental challenges humanity is still facing. In public health care, this fund can be a boon as it will invoke conscience of companies about their choice – developing a product and achieving high sales at higher rates or rather developing a product and reducing the overall burden from healthcare.
2.How negligence and violations led to Vishakhapatnam Gas leak case?
Source: The Hindu
Syllabus: GS-3 Disaster Management
Context: Styrene gas leakage at LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam killed several people and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.
What is Styrene Gas?
- It a derivative of benzene and is a colourless, inflammable liquid that evaporates easily.
- It is used in the manufacturing of polystyrene plastics, fiberglass, rubber, and latex. It is also found in vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke, and in natural foods like fruits and vegetables.
- It is included in the schedule of the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989
Government Intervention after Gas Leak incident:
After the gas leak incident, National Green Tribunal (NGT) took up the case suo motu and constituted a five-member joint monitoring committee to conduct a probe. The NGT imposed a fine of ₹50 crore on the plant under the liability clause.
The findings of the NGT Committee are as follows:
Cause of the Gas Leak: The leak occurred due to self-polymerisation of styrene monomer. The malfunctioning of a tank’s refrigerating unit led to an increase in temperature which caused styrene to evaporate and leak.
Absence of safety protocols:
- the company did not have enough tertiary butyl catechol (TBC), which is used as an inhibitor to avoid self-polymerisation
- there was no system to monitor dissolved oxygen in the vapour space.
- Equipments were old and lacked maintenance.
Role of Urban Planning in the Vishakhapatnam Gas Leak:
According to environmentalists, poor urban planning makes Vishakhapatnam more prone to effects of industrial disasters. Generally, when cities are planned, industries are located on one side and the city expands towards the other. But in the case of Visakhapatnam, industrial growth is scattered in all directions.
How should have been industrial expansion planned?
Visakhapatnam is shaped like a bowl, with the Bay of Bengal on one side and mountains surrounding it on all three sides. According to urban planners, industries should have been planned outside the hills.
No environmental Clearance: The company had been operating the plant from 1997 to 2019 without obtaining the necessary environment clearances.
Effects of the Gas Leak:
- Short-term Health effects:Respiratory problems, irritation in the eyes, irritation in the mucous membrane, and gastrointestinal issues.
- Long-term Health effects:It can affect the central nervous system and lead to other related problems like peripheral neuropathy. It could also lead to cancer.
- Effect on Livelihood:Agriculture is the main source of income for around 400 families in the affected area. The farmers have lost their crops as they were directed by the Dept of agriculture to destroy the standing crop not to undertake sowing till further clearance is given.
Conclusion: The toxic gas leak in Visakhapatnam is grim reminder to the importance of prevention and response to industrial disasters.
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