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Interview: Scott Hickie discusses health corruption

Open Briefing senior analyst Scott Hickie was recently interviewed for the International Affairs Forum, published by the Center for International Relations in Washington DC.

International Affairs Forum: How long has pharmaceutical corruption been a critical issue? Could you give a couple examples of how pharmaceutical corruption is practiced?

Scott Hickie: Unfortunately, I am not sure pharmaceutical corruption ranks as a major concern within the international community comparative to other illicit activities such as drugs cultivation, organised crime, human trafficking etc. While the book and movie ‘The Constant Gardener’ raised some awareness about the potential for very severe forms of pharmaceutical sector corruption I don’t think we have experienced a public health crisis whereby pharmaceutical sector corruption has hampered the medical system response. And maybe we won’t because the nature of corruption in this sector won’t come in the form of a big ‘shock’ but more an incremental corroding safety standards and resiliency of public health systems. Part of this arises due to the diverse and complex nature of pharmaceutical corruption.

As we show in the report [Corruption within the pharmaceutical supply chain to the developing world] the pharmaceutical supply chain has eight major points and corruption varies greatly at each stage. This makes it very hard to simplistically characterise what pharmaceutical corruption looks like, which in turn makes it hard to get the attention of key policy makers. The Constant Gardener showed only one component of the pharmaceutical supply chain: clinical trials and while awareness of the ethics around clinical trials is critical it is only one of eight components.

IA-Forum: Pertaining to India specifically (or the South Asian region more generally), how widespread is pharmaceutical corruption? Does it impact people taking common pharmaceuticals or is it limited to specific medicines?

Scott Hickie: It is hard to say particularly because we didn’t do country specific studies for the report but it should be noted that both China and India are seeing significant sector growth in terms of exporting volume and domestic consumption. Over the next 10 years we may see India and China become larger pharmaceutical exporters, even without leaps and bounds in modernization of biotechnology research and development. India is home to some of the largest generics companies.

Some pharmaceutical companies would most likely argue that the issue in India is that of counterfeits and suggest that India companies are infringing the intellectual property (patents) of large pharmaceutical companies who invested millions in research and development of specific drugs and medicines.

Other CSO stakeholders seem more concerned with manufacturing, procurement and selection of essential medicines. There have been cases where both GlaxoSmithKline (a multinational pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare company) and Ranbaxy Laboratories (an Indian generics manufacturer) faced enforcement actions by the US Department of Justice for non-compliance with required manufacturing process standards. In both cases, plants were based in countries with poor compliance and enforcement capacity.

You can read the full interview here.