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In the news: Much-loved '20-rupees doctor' dies, bird flu reaches Karnataka and more

A wrap of health news over the past week.

On November 18, Dr V Balasubramaniam, who ran a clinic in Sidhapur area of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, died of cardiac arrest. The next morning, his funeral drew thousands of people, The News Minute reported.

Balasubramaniam used to charge his patients only Rs 20, earning him the moniker “ 20-rupees doctor” and the respect of thousands of people who came to him for treatment.

He started out charging his patients just Rs 2 for consultation and then gradually increased it over the years.

The crowd on the street where the funeral took place was so large that it had become difficult for policemen to control it, the report said.

WHO drops the term ‘counterfeit’ for generic medicines

In a boost to the campaign for global access to medicines, the World Health Organisation has dropped the term “counterfeit” for inferior quality Indian-made generic drugs exported to other countries, The Hindu reported.

The decision to drop the word was made on Wednesday, in a technical working group on draft working definitions of substandard/spurious/falsely-labelled/counterfeit medical products.

The WHO in a statement said that the term “counterfeit” was used in association of protection of intellectual property rights and decided to “expressly exclude the protection of intellectual property rights” in deciding on the definitions of not-of-standard drugs.

The WHO has, however, retained the word “falsified” to describe medicines of inferior quality.

The European Union Free Trade Agreement had reached a deadlock after affordable generic drugs were confiscated as illegal and counterfeit, often on their way to other South American countries.

Nearly 20 shipments of generic drugs including basic antibiotics and antiretrovirals, were detained while in transit from India to several developing countries via Europe between 2008-2009.

Leena Meghaney, South Asia head of non-profit, Médecins Sans Frontières, told the Hindu that generic drugs were labelled as counterfeit, creating a confusion that had taken away attention from substandard medicines.

Medicine shortage for patients with Wilsons’ Disease continues

Patients suffering from Wilson’s Disease – a genetic disease that prevents the body from removing extra copper – are facing an acute shortage of life saving drugs in the country, a Times of India report said.

High copper levels in the body can cause life-threatening organ damage. The drug, D-penicillamine, prevents poisonous accumulation of copper in the body.

Doctors working with patients suffering from the disease said that there has been a shortage of drugs since June.

D-penicillamine was placed under Drug Price Control Order a few years ago. On September 30, the Central Drug Standard Control Organisation held a meeting of selected drug makers to discuss the non-availability of the drug.

On September 30, the central drug regulator – the Central Drug Standard Control Organisation – convened a meeting of select drug makers to discuss the non-availability of D Penicillamine.

According to an online petition by Piyush Gattani, who suffers from Wilson’s Disease, the reason for the “real or artificial” shortage of this drug is the fact that the drug’s price has been fixed at Rs 138 per strip of 10 capsules. He said that it is no longer cost-effective for pharmaceutical companies to sell the medicine, as it is imported at a high cost to India and then capsuled.

Bird flu outbreak in Karnataka

After Delhi and Madhya Pradesh a birdflu outbreak has been reported in Karnataka, the World Organisation for Animal Health told Reuters on Friday.

The organisation confirmed that the Indian government confirmed H5N8 strain of the virus among birds in the village of Itagi, and 15,93 birds were at risk from the disease died or were culled.

In October, birds from National Zoological Park and other parts of Delhi and Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior Zoo had died of avian flu. Experts had said that there is no reason to panic as the virus does not spread to humans easily.

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