The relationship between India and the US has “never been stronger”, as both countries pledge to work together on health.
A second India-US health dialogue in September concluded with a renewed bilateral commitment from both countries to collaborate against issues of mutual concern. “Working together, we can tackle problems relevant to both our nations, such as global health security, research on understudied diseases, and access to medicines,” says Garrett Grigsby, Director of Global Affairs at the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Among the topics discussed on the last day of the dialogue were communicable and non-communicable diseases, low-cost innovations, food and drug regulations, traditional medicine and access to medicines.
In addition to the dialogue, the event saw US officials visiting a number of Indian institutions in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. They reinforced collaborations in controlling and managing HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, antimicrobial resistance, cancer, acute encephalitis syndrome as well as mental health issues.
The Health Dialogue’s closing ceremony was attended by U.S. Charge D’Affaires Ms. MaryKay Carlson, who said, “The strong showing from ministries and agencies on both the U.S. and Indian sides shows the level of commitment to this relationship”
The event saw a comprehensive discussion involving a large number of departments in attendance from both countries. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Global Affairs, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and USAID collaborated with counterparts from the Indian MOHFW, Ministry of Science and Technology, and Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy.
Following on from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington in June, Indian diplomats have hailed the growing US-India relationship. Santosh Jha, the new Deputy Indian Ambassador to the US claimed the level of cooperation between the two nations would have been “unimaginable” a decade ago.
While increased collaboration in healthcare services, as well as a commitment from both countries to improve access to healthcare is indeed a positive move, not all aspects of the collaboration may be beneficial to India.
There is growing pressure within the White House to incentivise India to commit to the US standards of intellectual property law. In a letter signed by four members of congress to the President this was noted as a significant barrier to trade. However, India’s generics market benefits hugely from provisions of Indian law which sometimes allow them to produce generic versions of medicines that are still under patent protection elsewhere.
India’s decision to grant a patent to US-based Pfizer’s Prevenar 13 pneumococcal vaccine was greeted with resentment by both the Indian media and by international charities such as Médecins Sans Frontières. Some view the move as damaging to poorer nations as by preventing Indian manufacturers from developing their own pneumococcal vaccine at a lower cost; others think that the decision is largely symbolic.
The dialogue can be viewed in a positive light, with international collaboration helping many large scale health projects across the globe. Some however view it as a sign that patent laws may further intrude into the generics market in India, leaving the prospect open that the closer ties may come at the expense of India’s own pharmaceutical industry.