Kyle Poplin

Weekly Roundup 11-15-14: New worries about India being the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’

The headlines this week told the evolving story of botched sterilization surgeries in India. We first learned that as many as 13 women died after receiving tubal ligations from an overworked doctor in a government-run sterilization camp. Next we learned that the suspected cause was infection and the surgeon who performed the procedures was arrested on charges of culpable homicide. Then came news that tainted medicines might be to blame.

Every new development in the story was eye-opening in much of the world.

The entire concept of a “sterilization camp” was difficult to grasp and has come under fire. The government holds these camps throughout India as a way to limit population growth. At the camp in question, the women were reportedly paid the equivalent of USD $23 to undergo the procedure. That’s a lot of money in that part of the world, relatively speaking, and brought up questions of coercion and quotas. Turns out, at least 336 people have died as a result of sterilizations in India since 2010.

There was outrage over the doctor’s workload. He reportedly operated on 83 women in six hours, when government regulations say a doctor should perform no more than 30 sterilization surgeries in a day.

But the scariest revelation is about potentially tainted medicines. The government has been searching drug factories and stopped at least two Indian pharmaceutical companies from distributing any more drugs.

India is known as the “pharmacy of the developing world,” thanks primarily to its view on patent laws and generic medicine. According to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), “more than 80 percent of the HIV medicines used to treat 6.6 million people in developing countries come from Indian producers, and 90 percent of paediatric HIV medicines are Indian-produced. MSF and other treatment providers also rely on Indian generic medicines to treat other diseases and conditions.”

The common theme throughout the story of the sterilization camps has been a pervasive lack of government oversight. With medicines from India flowing to much of the developing world, this lack of oversight takes on new, frightening dimensions with potential global impact.

Ebola’s impact on markets

Ebola is not just a public health crisis, it’s also a worsening economic crisis.

Mercy Corps studied Liberian communities and found that, since the outbreak began, 90 percent of households are eating less food and of lower quality at each meal, and 85 percent are eating fewer meals. The reason: Ebola has disrupted market supply chains and incomes are dropping while prices are spiking. And Liberia’s average family income was already among the lowest in the world.

Mercy Corps is attempting to bolster the market by helping farmers via cash transfers and agricultural tools; helping improve transportation so products can get to market; and emergency food assistance.

Meanwhile, the U.N. World Food Program has distributed 6,500 metric tons of food in Liberia in the past few months.

The world needs an effective, affordable Ebola vaccine, to be sure, but the peripheral effects of the disease are no less complicated.

The salad days of mobile in China

In last week’s Roundup, NextBillion Editor Scott Anderson discussed the explosion of commerce in China, specifically giant e-retailer Alibaba and the inroads it’s making via mobile phones. That company alone reached 217 million mobile customers in September and they’re now purchasing more than a third of the company’s total merchandise, or roughly double the volume of a year ago.

These are, indeed, the salad days of mobile in China.

So perhaps it wasn’t surprising to learn this week that wireless megafirm Qualcomm Inc. is co-creating the China Center for mHealth Innovation (CCmHI) to help the government reach its Twelfth Five Year Goal, which includes improving community health care.

Working with the nonprofit George Institute for Global Health, the plan is to find scalable, affordable, effective mHealth solutions throughout China – and, ostensibly, the world.

“There is a pressing need for fresh approaches to community health care in China and globally, particularly in resource-poor areas,” said Stephen MacMahon, principal director of the George Institute for Global Health.

A recent report showed that by 2050, 34 percent of China’s population will be 60 or older. That totals 420 million people. Talk about a business with a huge upside.

Whoever came up with the idea of getting Qualcomm involved is probably due for a huge raise.

Looks what’s already happened with Chunyu Yisheng, a smartphone mobile app which connects patients with physicians in China. Since launching in 2011, the app has already connected 30 million users with more than 40,000 doctors and raised more than USD $50 million in funding, which is unprecedented for a health care startup.

The app is free for patients and doctors, with revenues from advertising by insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and private hospitals. That unique business model has made it one of the most successful health care startups ever.

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Health Care
poverty alleviation, reproductive health