Oxytocin: Should it be banned?

What Is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone. It can cause a wide variety of physical and psychological effects and is commonly used to facilitate childbirth.

Decision of government
From 1st July 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare restricted the manufacture of Oxytocin formulations for domestic use to Karnataka Antibiotics & Pharmaceuticals Ltd (KAPL), a public sector company. No private manufacturer was allowed to manufacture the drug for domestic use. It has also banned the import of Oxytocin and its formulations.

The Oxytocin formulations meant for domestic consumption were to be supplied by the manufacturer, i.e. KAPL, to the registered hospitals and clinics in public and private sector directly. Oxytocin in any form or name will not be allowed to be sold through retail Chemist.

Criticism of Complete Oxytocin ban
The Union Health Ministry’s ban on the retail sale and private manufacture of oxytocin was severely criticized.

The drug, a synthetic version of a human hormone, is a life-saver for women. Doctors use it to induce labour in pregnant women and to control postpartum (following childbirth) bleeding. Infact, World Health Organization recommends the drug’s use in postpartum hemorrhage.

Why has government banned Oxytocin?
The drug is used by dairy owners and farmers to boost milk production and make vegetables look bigger and fresher. Because oxytocin stimulates lactation in cattle, dairy farmers inject the drug indiscriminately to increase milk production.

What is required?
The need of the hour is to strengthen regulation and check illegal production and use. Much is unknown about the ill-effects of oxytocin on cattle. One of the concerns is that oxytocin leads to infertility in dairy animals. It has also been linked to mastitis, a painful inflammation of the udder (mammary gland of some animals). Human beings may get exposed to oxytocin through consumption of dairy products. The science behind some of these claims is unclear.

However, even if the ill-effects of oxytocin are real, a ban is not the answer. Oxytocin is too important to Indian women, nearly 45,000 of whom die due to causes related to childbirth each year.

Is monopoly in production a solution?
If only a single public sector unit manufactures the drug, this could lead to drug shortages and price hikes. Such a situation may benefit cattle but will put the lives of many women at risk.

Decision of Delhi High Court
In December 2018, Delhi High Court quashed a government ban on the retail sale and private manufacture of oxytocin.

In its judgment, the court struck down the ban, calling it “unreasonable and arbitrary”. The court found that the government had failed to weigh the danger the ban posed to thousands of mothers. What is more, it had failed to show that the drug was widely misused for veterinary purposes, the purported reason behind the order.

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