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Oxytocin: Doctors challenge Centre in Supreme Court

Oxytocin is a life-saving drug which can save the lives of new mothers.

The fight over the government’s controversial ‘Oxytocin ban’ has escalated even further and will now be fought in the Supreme Court. .

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has joined the fight against the Centre’s efforts to have Oxytocin’s production and sale severely curtailed by moving the apex court. The new policy has been proposed since summer last year, but has stalled several times due to legal hurdles.

The Centre last year moved to ban the production and distribution of Oxytocin by private sector companies, transferring control to a single public firm. The move came in response to reports of misuse of the hormone by dairy farmers and in the sex trade. However, there is an important use of Oxytocin which can’t be ignored: to prevent postpartum haemorrhage  (PPH) in new mothers. Fears that the Centre’s proposals would lead to shortages of the life-saving drug has seen it being repeatedly challenged in the courts.

After already being delayed from its initial rollout date of July 1st 2018  to September 2018 , the Oxytocin ban was pushed back a second time to October last year after a stay was issued by the Delhi High Court (HC). The HC had earlier sought answers from the Centre about the ban amidst litigation by the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), which calls for access to essential medicines across India.

The review petition has expressed concern over the ban. It said, “this application, which adds that reserving the manufacture of this drug for domestic use to the public sector “clearly is a statutory override” and cannot be supported under Section 26 A of India’s Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. Section 26 A empowers the government to regulate, restrict or prohibit the manufacture and sale of a drug “in public interest”

The scarcity of the drug or even a restricted availability can cause an increase in maternal fatalities, during childbirth, impairing the lives of thousands of innocent young mothers,” the IMA also said in its filing to the SC against the Centre’s argument.

The controversy playing out in the HC culminated in the Court ruling against the Centre’s move in December. The HC argued that there was no scientific basis for the Centre’s decision and opined that the manoeuvre had been taken without due diligence being paid in assessing the potential impact on public health. The Centre did not take the ruling lying down, however, and has since moved to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has now intervened in the matter, joining a list of non-government organisations and drugmakers protesting the decision and exhorting the SC to uphold the HC’s decision. With the matter expected to be heard by the SC this week, there is much for both the Centre and protesters against the decision to fear from the ruling. For the Centre, it could be the final reversal of a policy that has stalled and stagnated in the courts for months. For activists, it could be a severe restriction of access to a life-saving drug – the ramifications of which for India’s mothers could be severe.


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