News Wrap

Even though medicines in India are among the least ex pensive in the world, the World Health Organization estimates that two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people have no medical insurance, versus 15% in China and about half in Africa. Around 70% of health care spending in India emanates from individual’s own resources. More than half of that is spent on buying medicines. The union government of India is facing strong resistance from foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies, over its plan to severely limit the prices for drugs. The new proposals extend price controls to 348 ‘‘essential compounds’’, including cancer and anti-HIV medicines, that are currently not covered. The current drug pricing policy dates to the mid-1990s, when the government set prices for 74 drug compounds in markets where a few producers dominated. On implementation, the new proposals will bring about two-thirds of India’s medicines under price control, compared with only 20% today. Foreign drug companies see a huge potential market in India. Drug sales are expected to rise to $17.5 billion by 2014, from $12 billion currently. The foreign producers argue that they have to defray large research and development costs by charging higher prices, for imported branded medicines.

No drug producer in India has more than 7% share by sales. India’s drug regulator has been allowing foreign drug makers, such as Glaxo, Smith Kline PiC and Novartis AG to sell products in India, without adequate testing. The government promises to increase public health spending from 0.9% currently, to 2.5% of gross domestic product, over the next five years. Trained doctors are insufficient, hospitals are decrepit, and the health infrastructure has failed to reach all rural areas.

Soft fire, same targets
Even after ‘Parivartan–Change’, with the Trimanul Congress ruling over a year, West Bengal continues to experience protests, processions, demonstrations, stone pelting, brick batting and mass stirrings. Over the past fifteen months, there have been at least eight fatal casualties from police firing, to quell unruly protests. A large number of people have been severely injured by police bullets. The annual average casualty figures may still be less than that of the earlier Left Front dispensation. As part of a more humane approach with mass agitations, the Trinamul State government has advised the district police not to carry firearms. In case firearms are required, senior officers would be deployed. Recently, mirchi grenades, smoke shell launcher Agni Varsha, pump action guns to spray rubber pellets and water cannons have been supplied to the West Bengal Police arsenal. Non-lethal weapons are expected to minimise human casualty, when confronted with law and order issues. Police modernisation schemes funded by the Central Government, with matching grants from the State Government, cater to the new acquisitions. West Bengal state has procured 15 water cannons at a cost of Rs 6 crore, around 200 mirchi grenades, 350 pump action guns and several Agni Varsha. Mirchi Grenades are hand grenades, packed with chilli powder. The multi-barrel Agni Varsha launcher, has four launchers to charge smoke shells in sequence. Colour is added in the water storage tanks, of the vehicle mounted water cannons. The coloured water leaves a mark on the protesters, aiding in identifications. State authorities are maintaining a list of sensitive districts and areas.

Dismantling institutionsin Romania
Beginning July 2012, Romonia’s parliament voted to suspend President Trian Basescu, triggering a referendum on impeaching the head of state. With the grounds of impeachment flimsy, the process appears to be a power grab by Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta, and his leftist USL coalition. Hungray’s Prime Minister Victor Orbann has entrenched his Fidesz party in power by similar means, since 2010. An emergency decree has removed the Romanian constitutional court’s powers to remove parliamentary decisions, which could have been used to block the President’s suspension. A referendum rule required 50% of registered voters to remove the President. This has been changed by another emergency decree requiring a simple majority to alter the President. The Romanian ombudsman, who can challenge institution’s actions in the constitution’s court was replaced with a USL loyalist. Speakers of both chambers were also replaced with USL activists. Crin Antonescu, the head of the Upper House is now the Co-leader of the ruling USL coalition.

Romania, with a population of twenty million, is an ex-communist state to have joined the European Union, since 2004. The population has been unhappy about inflation cost cuttings and stagnation. After securing 20 billion Euro from the EU, and International Monetary Fund, bailout in 2009, Romania has adopted some of Europe’s toughest austerity measures. Public sector wages were slashed by a quarter. With parliamentary elections due in November 2012, Romania’s centre-left coalition is extending its powers. Romania has to conform to economic reforms, given the 5 billion Euro IMF precautionary credit line. Investor fears have driven Romania’s currency to record lows, against the Euro.

Vol. 45, No. 8, Sep 2-8, 2012