• FEBRUARY 26, 2009

Infrastructure is seriously lacking

Government misses the mark in infrastructure
On India's infrastructure front, not surprisingly, most of the projects have missed targets set by the government for the period April to December 2008. These include projects in power, coal mining, petroleum and natural gas, roads and railways. As reported in a leading business daily, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) missed the target of widening and strengthening 2,261 km of roads by 30%. Natural gas output was short of the goal of 30,019 m cubic metres by 5,017. Similarly, fertiliser production was 10% below the target.

That said, while in the road sector, the NHAI is a long way off from meeting its goal, it has still managed to log in a robust growth of 72% over the corresponding period last year. While infrastructure development has been a major focus area for the current UPA government, the same has been mired in myriad problems. The global financial crisis, recession in the developed world and the consequent slowdown in the economies of the developing countries have only made matters worse. However, given the poor state of India's infrastructure, the current and the subsequent government will have to have an unwavering focus on improving the same if India's GDP has to grow strongly on a sustained basis.

Worsening scenario in Asia
While much has been said of the recession in the US and Europe, Asia is also paying a heavy price. Take Japan for instance. As reported in the International Herald Tribune (IHT), Japan's economy shrank an annualized 12.7% during the last quarter of 2008. Further, Japanese exports slumped 46% from a year earlier and imports fell 32%, mirroring the trend witnessed recently in other Asian countries such as China and Taiwan.

As a result of waning exports, Japan's trade deficit has ballooned to a record US$ 9.8 bn. With demand declining across the globe, Japanese manufacturers have been hit hard as a result of which production has been slashed at a rapid pace. This has been more than evident in industrial output, which has slipped 10% in January. In an economy whose growth largely depends on exports, clearly things are not likely to improve unless some semblance of a recovery begins to manifest in the global economy.

The ethics of clinical trial outsourcing
Conducting clinical trials is the backbone of the research process in the pharma sector, the results of which help the US FDA or any other regulatory authority determine whether the drug should be approved for commercial launch. The trend which has emerged over the years has been to outsource clinical work to low cost destinations and enroll patients from the developing countries to gather evidence about the efficacy of the drug which will be critical in getting an approval from the requisite regulatory authority.

The fact that global pharma majors are under pressure to reduce research expenditure has compelled many of them to look for patients in low cost destinations particularly developing nations. But the same in recent times has come under some flak.

As reported in the IHT, the New England Journal of Medicine, has raised questions about the ethics and the science of increasingly conducting studies outside the US, especially when the studies were conducted for gathering evidence for new drugs to gain approval in the country. In fact, what was further stated was that the human volunteers in the developing countries were lured to participate by promising them compensation or free medical care.

Concerns have been raised in India on this issue too with allegations that poor patients in India are being used as guinea pigs by global pharma majors in developing new drugs. While the importance of pharma companies in developing path breaking drugs to ward off diseases cannot be undermined, they nevertheless need to ensure that strict ethical practices are maintained. Otherwise, they face the prospect of their reputation being severely tarnished.

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