Branded, generic and the missing ingredient of quality – Over-the-Counter Medicines in India: Issues and Challenges | 17 November 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the issues and challenges of the Over-the-Counter Medicines in India.


  • GS2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources


  • Misuse of Prescription-Only Drugs:
    • In India, patients often approach a pharmacist instead of visiting a doctor for minor ailments, leading to the misuse of prescription-only drugs sold over the counter (OTC).
    • This practice poses significant risks to patients' health and highlights the need for stricter regulations and better patient awareness.
  • Generic vs. Branded Medicines:
    • The National Medical Council (NMC) directed all doctors to prescribe only generic names, not brand names, in an effort to promote the use of more affordable generic medicines.
    • However, there are concerns about the quality of generic medicines, as the prescribing doctor has no freedom to mention his preferred brand.
    • The Indian Medical Association and allied professional organizations believe that improving access to affordable medicines is part of their ethical commitment to patients.
  • Quality Control and Regulatory Oversight:
    • The prevalence rate of spurious and “not standard quality” medicines (NSQs) in India is 4.5% and 3.4%, respectively, according to two national drug surveys.
    • The government must ensure the quality of medicines produced, procured, and supplied through its Universal Health Coverage system and private healthcare network.
    • However, the availability rate of essential medicines must be above 90%, and there is a ban on unscientific combinations of medicines.
  • Implementation of Policies and Recommendations:
    • The Indian Medical Association's protest led the NMC to withdraw the order on 'generic prescribing' on August 23, 2023. However, this is only a small step towards ensuring universal access to affordable generic medicines for all without brand names.
    • More comprehensive measures are needed, such as expanding the network of Janaushadhi kendras, limiting profit margins for wholesale agents and retailers, and monitoring the implementation of free medicines and free diagnostics under Universal Health Care.

Way Forward:

  • The over-the-counter medicine market in India faces significant challenges related to misuse, quality control, and regulatory oversight. Implementing stricter regulations, promoting generic medicines, and ensuring access to affordable healthcare are essential steps towards addressing these issues and improving patient outcomes.

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