‘Easy availability of antibiotics led to India’s TB epidemic’

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‘Easy availability of antibiotics led to India’s TB epidemic’PANAJI: India made a big mistake in making antibiotics freely available over the counter. This allowed antibiotics overuse, leading to rising cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis in India, 1993 Nobel laureate Richard J Roberts said here.

“With tuberculosis, one of the problems is multi-drug resistance. When antibiotics first came out, they were very successful against TB. But then the antibiotics got overused. And, in places like India, you can get antibiotics very easily. You can just buy them in the pharmacies. I think that is a big mistake. It allows the overuse of antibiotics,” Roberts told TOI in an exclusive interview.

But Roberts said Indian vaccines are quite effective against TB and India could take this course to control the rising cases of the disease in the country.

Recently, World Health Organisation termed TB as an epidemic in India.

“You will have to make sure people get vaccinated,” Roberts said, adding that he is confident that the discovery of new antibiotics and new compounds will take place soon, which can counter the drug-resistant TB.

Roberts, who was awarded the Nobel prize in the field of genetics and molecular biology for his discovery of split genes, said pharmaceutical companies, patent or no patent, want to make drugs freely available in developing countries because there is a lot of profit that can be made from such business in these regions.

Roberts said he would want to see the government make drugs and make them freely available to everyone, rather than have private companies make drugs in order to make profits out of it.

“I am not a big fan of the patent system. I don’t like the whole patent system. I find it distasteful. I think patents on the whole don’t do anything other than allow companies to make a lot of money. You find that in many developing countries, pharmaceutical companies will make drugs available anyway as they can make a lot of money,” he said.

“Drugs should be available to everybody. And one of the ways we develop drugs these days is that they are developed by private companies who want to make money. I don’t have problems with companies making money. That is a reasonable thing to do. But if drugs are to be made in order to make profits, that I find objectionable,” Roberts said.

The UK-based scientist said he also advocates healthcare of citizens be completely funded by the government through the taxes it collects.

“Healthcare should be thought of as a basic human right. And we should do the very best we can to help everybody. If you see Europe, there is the universal healthcare that is paid for by the government from the taxes. The system in the US I think is not very good. It is expensive. I am a great believer in universal healthcare paid for by the government,” said Roberts.

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