Policymaking and bioscience: The missing link

Besides the need to do a regular policy revisiting, most of the prominent researchers in public and private sector agree that it has to be more inclusive. BioSpectrum delves deeper

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The policymaking on scientific research in India is driven by many factors including focus on national priority areas such as health, energy, power, information technology among others. The government while investing money in the respective areas, looks at tangible solutions for the issues that the nation is facing. In particular, the drafting of long term policy especially in bioscience, usually depends on the involvement of prominent scientists and administrators in a committee. While most of the time, decisions are taken at the higher level, there are times when the consultations are held with general public over the issues that directly affect them. However, the opinions of grass root level researchers from private sector and public institutes, might have not found place in the traditional approach. The most commonly cited reasons include the communication gap and reluctance to convey the fair opinion.

Dr Dharamchand Jain, general manager - Green Tech, IPCA Labs, is of the opinion that the gap ultimately leads to the loss of country's knowledge treasure. "Scientists work in different environment and sometimes do not understand the requirement of drug development and conversion into commercial production. Similarly the gap between both agencies is still too much less trust each other therefore not achieved required results," says Dr Jain.

Pointing towards the contradiction between science and policymaking, Dr T Jacob John, retired professor of clinical virology, Christian Medical College, Vellore mentions particularly about the lack of consistency, "What was the policy for AIDS control? Was it to create a modality for control? (started as AIDS Task Force in 1986, fully autonomous and financed by the government of India, converted to National Aids Control Organization (NACO) in 1992, with heavy financial input from World Bank, but using all Task Force strategy and tactics) or was it to actually control? (goal set for reversing the trend of increasing burden by 2010?) or was it to make private sector work with public sector as equal partners? (CMC Vellore that established a project to explore if HIV had reached India, sent someone for training to US, obtained test reagents and detected the very first infected people in Chennai Remand Home, and designed all the elements of control interventions is in the private sector, and was designated national reference lab by GoI from 1986 onwards).

Dr John adds further, "When it came to polio, giving 3 doses for primary immunisation was the rule (was it policy?) but when science found that 3 was grossly inadequate and proposed 5 doses in first year, or pulse method to rapidly control polio, or to use IPV -- all in the early 1980, none of these was accepted -- here policy was in direct contradiction to science and until that gap was filled in the mid-2000s, we could not eliminate polio. Policy makers do not keep abreast of science."

Democratising bioscience policy or it isn't realistic at all?

Can the policy made from the board rooms without even consulting those who would get affected by it? One of the key aspects of shift in the bioscience policy from traditional approach to a more inclusive one, is to make it more democratic by finding ways to involve researchers at the grassroots level.

 

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