|Saturday, 3 July 2004|
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Realistic economic policy
The UPFA Government's economic policy which was spelt out for us on Thursday by Finance Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama shows a welcome tilt towards those sectors of the economy which would help considerably in bridging the income and wealth gap between the urban and rural populations of this country.
While the overall target of the Government is an eight percent growth rate, special attention would be paid to the development of sectors, such as, agriculture, fisheries, livestock, exports and small and medium scale enterprises.
Pointing to glaring anomalies in economic growth patterns Dr. Amunugama said that the Western Province makes the highest contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), "while all other provinces strive to get even 10 per cent". Consequently, there is a yawning disparity in income earning and distribution between the predominantly urbanized Western Province and the rest of the country which is largely dependent on the agricultural sector. As the Minister rightly pointed out we have as a result, "two countries within Sri Lanka". One consists of the haves and the other of the have nots, who constitute the majority of the population of the country.
Needless to say, the existence of a vast sea of poor persons, poses serious socio-economic and political problems. Making these "two countries" one is the prime challenge facing the Government and we welcome the sense of realism with which the Finance Minister has approached his tasks.
We suggest the next few days be spent evolving pro-poor growth strategies which would help in empowering the majority of our population. Developing the small and medium scale sectors, provides one key to success.
Cheaper and better drugs
Multinational companies manufacturing brand name drugs do not want the public to know about it, but the truth is that generic drugs are as good as the branded ones. It is the same chemical formula - only the name and the packaging are different.
Of course, there is often a huge price gap between the two versions of the same drug, with branded drugs costing much more. Most patients in the developing world cannot afford to buy these drugs in the long term.
Up to now, the big names in the worldwide pharmaceutical business have dominated the market for serious and deadly illnesses such as AIDS. But this is changing slowly, as developing countries have begun to manufacture versions of generic drugs for a range of ailments from the common flu to AIDS. The latest example comes from India, where a cheap three-in-one generic AIDS pill has proved to be as effective as the more expensive branded medicines.
Researchers who conducted the tests on Triomune, the new anti-AIDS drug, say it should be widely used in developing countries where AIDS is spreading fast. The researchers, from the French national agency for AIDS research and the Swiss charity Medecins sans Frontieres said the new drug performed as well as brand-name drugs in the first open clinical study in a developing country. They found that 80 percent of HIV-infected patients given the tablet twice a day had undetectable levels of virus in their blood after six months of treatment.
This is a huge breakthrough in the context of the alarming rise of AIDS around the world. Millions of Third World citizens have perished as their Governments or they themselves could not afford the recommended expensive anti-AIDS drugs. Cheaper, but equally effective generic drugs could have saved most of these lives. The same goes for a host of other diseases which are prevalent in the Third World.
India's pharmaceutical industry has shown that it is second to none in this global business. Many Indian companies export their drugs products to developed countries where they have successfully met and even surpassed the required clinical standards. Extensive research is the key to this success.
Sri Lankan authorities too should encourage medical scientists working for both State-owned and private pharmaceutical companies to intensify research on generic drugs. Like India, Sri Lanka has many plant varieties whose medicinal properties have still not been analysed. They might potentially lead to miracle cures for more debilitating illnesses.
Produced by Lake House