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Cochlear Implant cartel, the ball in PM’s court!

Cochlear Implant cartel ball in PM’s court

Cartel restricting cochlear implants, surgeons tell PM

Times of India, Dated 1 September 2017

NEW DELHI: Several ear nose-throat (ENT) surgeons have sought government intervention against an alleged nexus between a group of surgeons and suppliers of cochlear implants, restricting the availability of these devices used in the treatment of deafness.

In independent pleas sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and the drug price regulator, these surgeons have claimed that the cartel effectively decides who performs cochlear implant surgeries in the country.

The surgeons say their complaints are based on concerns shared by many ENT specialists that fellow surgeons from the Cochlear Implant Group of India (CIGI) are colluding to restrict supplies of the hearing aids, leaving other surgeons and patients devoid of the implants.

CIGI has restricted access to cochlear implants by imposing “unrealistic and unscientific” criteria for ENT surgeons to handle cochlear implants and by insisting that only “mentors approved by companies” should train surgeons for the implants, the complainants have said.

Cochlear implants are small electronic devices that provide a sense of sound to the profoundly deaf by directly stimulating the auditory nerve.

It’s market price ranges from Rs 5.5 lakh to around Rs 15 lakh. Around 1 lakh children are born deaf every year in India but doctors say less than 5,000 procedures are carried out, mainly because the implants are expensive.

Besides, the cost of the procedure, allegedly dictated by a select group of ENT surgeons, is exponentially high.

According to the complainants, CIGI created some misleading guidelines which created an impression that only a select group of surgeons can perform a cochlear implant operation.

While the conflict between the two groups of surgeons has been going on for a few years, complainants say that repeated pleas to CIGI have failed to yield results. CIGI, meanwhile, maintains that it is not a regulatory authority which can restrict supplies.

Instead, the guidelines are only meant to ensure that only competent surgeons perform cochlear implant procedures.

In their letter to the PMO and the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), the complainants have also alleged that the cartel is driven by commissions on implants.

The surgeons are now hoping that government intervention can not only help bust the cartel but make these procedures more affordable and accessible for patients.

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