ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Quality as Fetish

In his extremely perspicacious article “The Cost of Drugs: Beyond the Supreme Court Order” (EPW, 27 April 2013), Sanjay Nagral has identified the two most crucial aspects of access to medicines: the reluctance of prescribers to prefer generic drugs over branded products; and the reluctance of the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers to promote public-sector manufacturing and distribution.

I like to call the word “Quality” a gobstopper – it shuts mouths as soon as it is invoked. No reasonable person can be expected to aver that Indian citizens can or should make do with drugs of dubious quality. However, quality is by definition unquantifiable, so that “first” or “high” quality differs from “second” or “low” quality by undefined degrees. The drug regulatory regimen is thus in the uncomfortable position of having to specify and administer the “quality” of drugs. The easiest way to do this is to stipulate that we shall try to have the best quality.

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