Women's health

As ban on retail sale of life-saving oxytocin draws near, gynaecologists are nervous

From September 1, no retail outlet will be allowed to sell the drug. Only one company in Karnataka will be allowed to manufacture it for domestic use.

As the deadline for implementation of the ban on retail sale of oxytocin from September 1 draws near, gynaecologists across the country are uncertain about how medical facilities will access supplies of the life-saving drug.

In April 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare passed an order prohibiting the import of oxytocin, and restricting the manufacture of oxytocin for domestic use to the public sector. The order also stated that oxytocin would not, in any form, be sold through retail stores. This means that the drug will have to be supplied directly from a licenced manufacturer to hospitals, nursing homes and clinics.

The restrictions on oxytocin come after the Himachal Pradesh High Court in 2016 observed that it was being misused in the dairy industry.

The government has given only one public sector company, Karnataka Antibiotics and Pharmaceuticals Limited or KAPL, the licence to manufacture the drug.

“As of now there is no shortage of oxytocin and the usual channels are open,” said Dr Parikshit Tank, a gynaecologist who works at a private hospital in Mumbai.

Many gynaecologists currently get oxytocin from distributors of pharmaceutical companies like Mylan and Pfizer. But it is also available at pharmacies across India.

“We have to see what happens three to four weeks after September,” Tank added.

Oxytocin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the human body. A synthetic version of this hormone is manufactured as a drug that is usually administered to a woman in childbirth in the third stage of labour, that is, after the baby has been delivered, to prevent and treats excessive bleeding. In some cases, it might also be given to induce labour.

Government preparedness

On Monday, the health ministry issued a press release saying that it had held a video conference with health officials from states and union territories to assess the preparedness of state governments to implement the new rules and to assess the current stocks of oxytocin. The ministry asked state officials to ensure the availability of oxytocin at all government hospitals and clinics by placing purchase orders with KAPL and to watch for any artificial shortages.

The health ministry has also directed state officials to meet representatives of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India, the Indian Medical Association and the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadi Pariyojana to make sure that oxytocin is available at all private clinics.

On Wednesday, a group of doctors met health ministry officials in Delhi and relayed their concerns about the distribution of oxytocin after September 1. “We spoke to the officials about our concerns,” said Dr Jaideep Malhotra, the president of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India. “We are also contacting members of Parliament, who have promised to bring up the issue in the House.”

Malhotra said that the crux of the problem is how the restrictions on sale of oxytocin will affect smaller hospitals and private practitioners. She said she was worried that a shortage of oxytocin would not only endanger the lives of many women across the country but also affect gynaecologists who may be blamed for deaths that occur due to unavailability of the drug.

Doctors not convinced

Most doctors are still asking how KAPL, as the sole manufacturer, could meet demand for oxytocin from across the country.

“I heard that the manufacturing company was ordered to start around August but we don’t know whether this company has the single manufacturing capacity to fulfill the needs of the country,” said Dr Nikhil Datar, an obstetrician at a private hospital in in Mumbai.

KAPL has sent a letter to the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India reiterating the health ministry order and containing details of the company’s regional branches for doctors to make requests for the medicine.

“KAPL has admitted that they don’t have a distribution network set up everywhere,” said Malhotra. “The distribution centres are not present in 19 states. They will not take small orders and will only deliver orders above 1,000 ampoules of oxytocin. This is just bizarre.”

Dr MC Patel, a gynaecologist who runs a private practice in Ahmedabad, said that it is unfair of the government to allow only one company to manufacture oxytocin. “Any high standard pharmaceutical company which has a good reputation and maintains quality should be given the chance,” he said.

A gynaecologist with a private hospital who did not want to be identified said that even if the authorities made sure that there was no shortage of oxytocin “there could be more paperwork from the administrative side that the hospital has to deal with.”

Malhotra pointed out that the alternative that she and most other gynaecologists would use, should they run short of oxytocin, is a drug called misoprostrol, which is expensive.

She also said that having a single supplier could allow spurious drugs to enter the market. “If there is no availability of the drug, it could give rise to a black market,” she said. “Now oxytocin [sold by a number of private manufacturers] costs Rs 12 to Rs 13, but KAPL is selling it for Rs 17.5. We are not able to understand why they are selling it at a higher rate.”

Moreover, India’s progress with bringing down maternal mortality has largely been by preventing deaths of women in childbirth in rural areas. These areas will be the most affected with restricted oxytocin supply, raising the threat of increased maternal deaths

“We can’t know the repercussions now but maybe in five years or so we will,” said Malhotra.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.


The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.