US Health Secretary Stresses Quality and Collaboration in Pharma, Cautions on Digital Health at G20 Meet

During the G20 Health Minister’s Meeting in Gandhinagar, Xavier Becerra, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, emphasized on Friday the pivotal role India plays in the pharmaceutical domain. However, he also stressed the necessity for maintaining quality.

Becerra further expressed concerns about digital health platforms operating without adequate guidelines, likening it to a chaotic “wild, wild West”. In its role as the G20 president, India advocates for a repository of digital health tools that are versatile and accessible for all.

Becerra noted, “India wants to make sure that she has companies, industry that have the capacity to meet those standards. We are absolutely willing to make sure that happens because we end up benefitting by having Indian industry that can meet those standards right away. We depend on India, India depends on us and together we can both thrive when it comes to making sure medicines are available not just to our people but to the world.”

His statements follow reports of certain countries, including the US, identifying impurities in Indian-produced pharmaceutical products. For instance, there were instances in the US where drug-resistant infections were associated with Indian-made over-the-counter eye drops.

Highlighting the mutual need for collaboration, Becerra mentioned the higher prices Americans pay for medications compared to other countries. Additionally, he brought up the recent scarcity of specific drugs in the US. To address these concerns, the US Food and Drug Administration’s commissioner is slated for an upcoming visit to India.

He elaborated, “We are going to do as much as we can to increase our own domestic capacity, but that would still not be enough. That’s where having strong partners like India make it possible for us to make sure that we are providing our people the medicines they need… at the same time (India) has the capacity to not just provide medicines for (her) people but beyond as well.”

One focal point of India’s G20 agenda is enhancing research and production of medical interventions, such as drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines. Discussing this, Becerra said countries need to delineate their roles for future pandemic management. He underscored India’s evolving significance in global health, suggesting that now is the time for India to solidify its leadership in this arena.

Commenting on the G20’s emphasis on digital health, Becerra acknowledged the transformative role of technology in healthcare. Nevertheless, he warned of its potential risks, especially with the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) in health applications. He asserted the necessity for stringent guidelines to ensure technology doesn’t become a double-edged sword, inadvertently causing harm.

Drawing an analogy, he added, “As we used to say to our children, ‘do not play with matches’. You play with matches, you can burn down a place. This is far more dangerous than a match. We need to make sure we do it right.”

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