Connecting Pills and People: An Ethnography of the Pharmaceutical Nexus in Odisha, India

Abstract

This article explores the impact of intensive competition within the pharmaceutical industry and among private providers on health care in an Indian city. In-depth interviewing and clinical observation were used over a period of 18 months. Private practitioners and chemists who provided regular services to inhabitants of a poor neighborhood in central Bhubaneswar were included. Fierce competition in private health in Odisha, India, reduced quality of care for the poor. The pharmaceutical industry exploited weak links in the health system to push drugs aggressively, including through illegal channels. The private health market is organized in small “network molecules” that maximize profit at the cost of health. The large private share of health care in India and stiff competition are detrimental for primary care in urban India. Free government services are urgently needed and a planned health insurance scheme should be linked to quality control measures.