Mumbai: The Union Health Ministry has shelved for an indefinite period the much-awaited National Antibiotic Policy which would clamp down on the over-the-counter sale of antibiotics.
After sitting on the proposed National Antibiotic Policy for more than an year, the Health Ministry has now decided to put it on hold indefinitely, citing concerns over access to medicines, in rural areas.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, Health Minister, said, "It should me made compulsory that no one can take antibiotics without doctor's prescription."
And yet there is no question that India needs tighter monitoring of antibiotic sales, the emergence of the NDM-1 superbug and high incidence of bacterial resistance are something the government cannot afford to ignore.
By the Health Ministry's own admission, 20-50 per cent of antibiotic use in India is unrestricted and inappropriate. And even though the authorities are opposing the presence of NDM1 superbug, last week, the capital's Ganga Ram Hospital revealed that the NDM1 presence was between 8-38 per cent.
Early this year, Pune's Sassoon Hospital also found 20 ICU patients carrying NDM1.
Back in 2008, Hinudja Hospital detected 23 NDM1 positive cases.
The problem also is that we're most prone to picking up superbugs that are resistant to powerful antibiotics.
The big question remains - without restriction on the sale and use, how will India tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance?
The ambitious antibiotic policy aimed at a complete ban of over-the-counter sales of all higher antibiotics which fall under Schedule H1, some 536 drugs.
They also proposed that only Head of Department's and not junior doctors, would be able to prescribe 3rd and 4th generation antibiotics. And this is the main concern with the policy, its impact on rural population.
Dr Kaushal Malhan, Orthopedic Surgeon, Fortis Hospital, said, "Policy has to be customized according to the needs. I fail to understand if you bring in a policy like this how you are going to control it."
Experts say the government needs a policy that's tailored for different parts of the country.