Why were three vaccine plants shut, apex court asks Ramadoss

February 20th, 2009 - 8:05 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday asked Union Health Minister A. Ramadoss to explain his decision to suddenly close down three crucial vaccine producing units, including a 103-year-old anti-rabies vaccine plant at Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh.
A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan sought the explanation, while issuing notices to Ramadoss and the union government on a public interest suit alleging that the closure of the three plants affected India’s child immunisation programme and gave multi-national pharmaceutical firms a foothold in the lucrative Indian market.

The bench, which also included Justice P. Sathasivam, issued notices on a lawsuit filed jointly by S.P. Shukla, a former special secretary in the health ministry, besides several other individuals and organisations.

The lawsuit said the three vaccine units, which were closed down in January 2008 by the health minister, included the Central Research Institute at Kasauli, Institute of Coonoor in Kerala and the 60-year-old BCG Vaccine Laboratory of Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

The suit pointed out that the Kasauli plant is the sole institute in South Asia to produce yellow fever vaccine and the world’s first anti-rabies vaccine. It also produces vaccines for DTP, typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis and serum against diphtheria, tetanus, rabies, snake venom and diagnostic reagents, besides serving as the quality control centre for vaccines produced by other public sector units.

On the Coonoor institute, the lawsuit said it was India’s first to introduce anti-rabies serum vaccine for human beings in 1917 and improved it through many innovations.

About the Chennai laboratory, it pointed out that it was the union health ministry’s sole unit with a prestigious international certification.

The lawsuit wanted the court to form an expert panel comprising eminent physicians and medical scientists to probe the reason behind the closure.

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