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Cheap pacemakers on offer for BPL patients

CALL IT big business with a heart. Asia?s sole cardiac pacemaker manufacturing company has offered to supply the life-saving equipment to the government at subsidised rates for below poverty line (BPL) patients.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2006 23:41 IST
Saeed Khan
Saeed Khan

CALL IT big business with a heart. Asia’s sole cardiac pacemaker manufacturing company has offered to supply the life-saving equipment to the government at subsidised rates for below poverty line (BPL) patients.

The firm, Indore-based Shree Pacetronix Ltd, has volunteered to offer indigenously manufactured pre-programmed pacemakers for as little as Rs 20,000 as against the Rs 40-50,000 that it costs for an imported device.

If cleared, the proposal would halve the cost of pacemaker implantation giving fresh lease of life to thousands of impoverished heart patients who cannot afford the lakh-odd rupees the procedure currently costs.

Pacetronix, a CE and ISO certified firm, is already supplying pre-programmed cardiac pacemakers manufactured at its Rs 5.5 crore Pithampur unit to West Bengal for BPL patients. “So far, we have supplied 200 pacemakers with a five-year, free-replacement warranty to WB,” reveals director Atul Sethi.

The eastern part of the country has a disproportionately high rate of cardiac patients, and heart patients abound even among the lower-middle class, ‘‘as they have the same dietary habits as the moneyed,’’ Sethi points out.

However, unlike the rich, the poor have no access to life-saving equipment when their hearts pack up. “Until we started providing pacemakers to WB, the poor were merely given medicines by doctors and sent back to their villages to die,” reveals Sethi.

Pacetronix promoter Dr Surendra Singh (now an NRI) was born and brought up in Madhya Pradesh, he says, adding that it was his desire to give something back to the State that prompted the subsidised pacemaker offer.

Stressing that low pacemaker costs in no way dictated a corresponding drop in quality, Sethi says that pacemakers his firm supplies are shorn of frills and ‘programmed to the max’ to benefit the recipients.

“How can you implant an expensive pacemaker in an 80-year-old lady and then justify it by saying it would allow her to run? How much running do the doctors expect her to do at her age, I’d like to know,” queries an irate Sethi.

“A doctor in, say, Athens, on the other hand, will unhesitatingly order one of our machines. Because he is interested in optimising benefit and minimising cost, instead of simply inflating medical bills,” he adds.

So why do doctors do it, then? “Well..” he ponders a moment, “for one, foreign manufacturers offer much higher incentives and benefits than we can hope to match. Also, in the absence of any medical and surgical knowledge, rich patients equate high costs with quality treatment. And doctors are only too ready to oblige by presenting massive bills”.

Things, however, are slightly different when an informed patient arrives on the scene. “Baba Amte, who was scheduled for a pacemaker implantation in 1993, went through all the options and then opted for ours because he became convinced that it was the best value for money”.

Mostly, though, it doesn’t work that way. Pacetronix director perceives a psychological bias against indigenously manufactured products. “It is ironic that as Indians we don’t want products made in our own country”.

Sethi, however, is hopeful that things may change in the future. “A pacemaker has a gestation period of 5-6 years. Doctors who installed our pre-programmed versions 7-8 years ago have seen them perform without snags.

This has led to second orders and we are confident that our quality will, in time, win over those physicians who are currently sceptical”.

First Published: Jan 09, 2006 23:41 IST