The High Court of Delhi has restored the retail sale of Oxytocin as well as its manufacturing. By this decision, the Delhi High Court has quashed a government ban on the retail sale and private manufacture of oxytocin. Notified by the Central Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in April, the reason regarding the ban was to attributed to the 2016 Himachal Pradesh High Court Judgment, which had primarily focussed on the misuse of Oxytocin in dairy, cattle, fruits and vegetables. Even after the order was passed, health experts pointed out to the absurdity of it. Oxytocin is a live saving drug used as stem post-partum bleeding among new mothers, the reason that it has been listed by both the Word Health Organisation and the Health Ministry as an essential medicine.
According to the statistics, 45,000 women die because of post-partum complications in India each year and the reason behind 38% of the cases is hemorrhaging. Therefore, without the easy availability of inexpensive oxytocin, efforts to stem maternal mortality epidemic would suffer a costly setback. As a consequence to these events, the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), patient-rights group, challenged the order of ban in Delhi High Court. According to the judgment delivered on December 14, in response to AIDANs and drug manufacturer’s petition, the Court struck down the ban, stating it as “unreasonable and arbitrary”. However the Court found out that the government had failed to weigh the danger the ban posed to thousands of young mothers.
What is more important is that the Government failed to show that the drug was being widely misused for veterinary purposes, the purported reason behind the order. Several instances cited in the judgment support this analysis. Taking into account the claims of the Central Government to have made 25 illegal drug seizures, it was discovered that 12 of them didn’t actually find oxytocin, and even those which did, did not involve licensed drug makers. Karnataka Antibiotics & Pharmaceuticals Limited, the only authorized oxytocin producer after the ban, did not have the capability to produce it until mid-2017. It is mystifying why the Union clamped down on licensed producers with a proven track record, while roping in a state firm with no real experience.
The most damning observation in the judgment of the Delhi HC is that the Union focused on the health of milch animals, without even giving a second thought about the welfare of women. This was despite all statutory bodies, including Drug Technical Advisory Board, advising against the ban. This episode ought to compel policy makers to show reflection on the process that led to ill-conceived order. Several questions must be answered. On what basis did the Union overrule the advice of multiple statutory bodies? What were the consequences which led to it accepting the sporadic reports of misuse of drugs, without clinching proof? Is it time to scrutinise how the health policy is framed in order to safeguard the right to health of Indian citizen?