BABIES, THEY say, are a nice way to start people. They are also, it would appear, a nice way to start profit. If the babies are Indian, there’s added allure to the profit because there are so many of them every year. In the days to come, as the denouement of a series of extraordinary events, the Indian government is expected to make a fresh decision on the number of vaccines Indian infants are to be given soon after birth. Much rests on the decision for Indian families and, oddly, the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has made a bizarre push for new vaccines it wants Indian newborns to be given in the country’s public health programme. A decision one way could risk the lives of the country’s babies, because there are doubts on the quality of vaccines the WHO is pitching for; it could push the government into financial commitments it is in no position to meet; it could empty the pockets of people who seek private medical help, and put the nation’s health sector more firmly under the control of agencies outside India.
A decision the other way could force units formerly run by the Indian government to resume full work and make homegrown vaccines; and thrust more expenses on a feeble state wallet, which will need to fund more R&D. This vaccine soup has been stirred by the WHO, which is in the midst of several controversies of late for creating medical scares and then backing drugs to fight them. In the first week of June, the WHO admitted it had failed to disclose conflict of interest for scientists who advised it on the H1N1 influenza pandemic. The response came after a British media report said the WHO had announced a fake pandemic to boost sales for pharmaceutical companies that manufacture antiviral drugs and the H1N1 vaccine. Now, there appear to be the makings of a similar controversy over what may be taking the shape of an Indian vaccine scam. Read full article