For a nation that seeks to claim the mantle of “pharmacy to the world,” India is scandalously short on regulatory oversight. In the last six months alone, its generic cough syrups have killed dozens of children, its eye drops have caused blindness and its chemotherapy drugs have been contaminated.
The children who died — mostly under the age of five years — were given Indian-made over-the-counter products contaminated with industrial solvents and antifreeze agents that are fatal in even small amounts. The eye drops that contained extensively drug-resistant bacteria? So far 68 patients across 16 US states have been affected. Three people died, several had to have their eyeballs removed, some went blind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on March 21. The Indian company, Global Pharma Healthcare, issued a voluntary nationwide recall for the drops.
India is the largest provider of generic medicines, producing 20% of the world’s supply, according to the government’s Economic Survey. Its $50 billion drug-manufacturing industry exports medicines to over 200 nations and makes 60% of all vaccines. It boasts “the highest number” of US Food and Drug Administration compliant plants outside America, and indeed, some of its generic pharmaceutical companies produce high-quality medicines.
That may well provide consumers with a level of comfort, but history suggests it is unwise to trust that feeling.