Health groups say government favouring private sector by not purchasing from vaccine manufacturing PSUs

Several health groups are disappointed that the apex court has refused to entertain a review petition to recall its earlier order in which it had dismissed a case dealing with revival of the PSUs.
Image for representational purpose only
Image for representational purpose only

NEW DELHI: Several health groups have expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court has refused to entertain a review petition to recall its earlier order in which it had dismissed a case dealing with revival of vaccine manufacturing Public Sector Units.

The groups say that the Court, in its February 12 order, relied only on the government’s claims regarding the revival and modernization of the suspended PSUs and did not consider the last rejoinder of the petitioners that highlighted the increasing diversion of purchase orders to private sector at ever increasing prices.

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2008 had suspended three vaccine PSUs-- Central Research Institute, Kasauli; Pasteur Institute of India, Coonor; and BCG vaccine laboratory, Chennai, after a World Health Organisation report that they were not following good manufacturing practices.

Prior to this, these units were producing 85 per cent of total vaccines used in health ministry’s national wide immunisation programmes.

Some health group challenged this in the apex court in 2009 and subsequently two of the three PSUs were modernised and re-opened several years later while one is still shut. The government, however, has been continuing to buy vaccines from the private sector which might make up these PSUs irrelevant, health activists accuse and are looking to file a fresh petition in the case.

The decade-old public interest litigation was filed by former union health secretary SP Shukla and representatives of the All India Drug Action Network, Low Cost Standard Therapeutics, Medico Friend Circle, and Society for Scientific Values.

“We won half the battle with the revival of the suspended PSUs and their modernisation for compliance with good manufacturing practices, under the pressure of our court case and the report of the governmental Javid Chowdhury committee,” said Shukla.

“But their production is yet to be restored to pre-suspension levels, the responsibility for mala fide suspension was not fixed, and even the recommendations of the Javid Chowdhury Committee have not been fully implemented.”

Mira Shiva of AIDAN, another petitioner in the case said that the country does not have a rational vaccine policy nor the rational use of vaccines - for example, selective immunization has disappeared from government policy.

“New vaccines and their combinations of doubtful efficacy and safety are being introduced in the universal immunization programme. By shifting its procurement towards irrational cocktail vaccines made only by the private sector, the government is systematically reducing PSUs into component suppliers to the private sector,” she stressed.

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The New Indian Express