In a cramped Mumbai paediatric ward, third-year pharmacology student Nitin Shinde opens the boy's file and notes the vaccine, his age and the doctor's diagnosis of a skin infection. That information is later logged into a computer programme linked to a national database, part of India's fledgling efforts to track, analyse and ultimately warn patients about unknown side effects of drugs on the market.
India's six-year-old pharmacovigilance programme, which collects and submits suspected adverse drug reactions to a World Health Organisation (WHO) database, is key to improving drug safety in a country where medicine consumption is high, experts say.
But insufficient staff and equipment, and a lack of awareness among medical professionals mean many potentially dangerous drug reactions go unrecorded, hospital personnel across India told Reuters.
Gaps in the system mean the government has less data to determine whether drugs might have harmful side effects. Also, relatively little information flows from one of the world's largest pharmaceutical markets to the WHO database of over 12 million suspected adverse drug reactions.
"In a country of 1 billion people consuming so much medicine, obviously safety is a concern," said G. Parthasarathi, dean of the pharmacy school at JSS University in Mysore, adding the pharmacovigilance programme is still gaining traction. "We've made a good start," he said.
Last year, India contributed 2 percent of the 2.1 million suspected reactions added to VigiBase, the WHO's global database. China, with a comparable population, contributed 8 percent.
Indian health officials say the monitoring programme is a "high priority" and a $14.5 million annual budget is sufficient.
"We are going to develop a better pharmacovigilance system in India in due course," said G.N. Singh, India's drug controller. "Patient health will be assured."
Regarding doctors' lack of engagement, "the culture of reporting is improving," said V. Kalaiselvan, principal scientific officer at the Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission.
The full Reuters article can be found here.