When the Chinese film, Dying to Survive made box office history in China in September 2018, as the third highest grossing box-office hit of the year, very few in India took notice. Apart from a small mention in some sections of the media, majority of Indians remained unaware of the brilliant depiction of a real-life story by Wen Muye.
The film’s painstakingly charts the journey of the protagonist, a broke aphrodisiac peddler who smuggles cheap and generic anti-cancer drugs from India to poor patients while evading the police and fighting the rich multinationals who are against releasing the drugs on a mass scale at lesser profits. While lead actor Xu Zheng essays his role as realistically as possible, the story finds resonance across the border as well.
Multinational companies have been up in arms against newfound indigenous generic manufacturers, who have challenged the status quo by bringing affordable and proven innovations in the field of drugs and medical devices, at prices that common citizens can buy. While there is no doubt that millions of dollars are required to be invested in research to discover new medicines and technologies, that alone cannot be the reason for Overseas Manufacturers to extract the entire amounts with unbridled profits from those who are afflicted.
In a landmark decision in its previous term, the Indian Government had capped the profit margins on cardiac stents and knee caps, both high-demand devices where manufactures were charging markups up to 1500%. The move was met with great resistance from overseas manufacturers who threatened to stop importing the products in India, but two years on, data indicates that there hasn’t been any significant decrease in imports of these implants or stents. One can therefore fathom that the need in the market is so huge that domestic manufacturing alone cannot meet the needs, and hence importers have continued to bring in these devices, albeit at lower costs.
MedSamaan has long held the position that import dependency of medical devices, which presently stands at more than 70% must be brought down. While India may allow imports of drugs and devices for rare diseases which require specialized tools of treatment, extant laws must promote local manufacturing; at the least, they must encourage healthy competition. India can ill afford to become the dumping ground of cheap Chinese medical devices, many of which are of questionable quality, and are brought into the country by container-loads, through an unholy nexus of distributors, willing manufacturers and corrupt officials. The Health Ministry’s latest directive to have every medical device after 2020 registered is a step in the right direction towards ensuring quality, and bringing accountability in the ailing system.
An important leaf to take out from the movie Dying to Survive, is the immediate need for all stakeholders in the Indian healthcare system to come together and initiate reforms that allow the build up of a credible and well-regulated structure that caters for disruptive innovations, economic capacity of the common populace and strikes a balance between imports and indigenous manufacturing. Only then can we truly progress towards becoming a global superpower in healthcare, and show the way for other developing nations in South Asia, Africa and Latin America to enhance their healthcare systems