India crowdsources whistleblowing with website, mobile app

India has given consumers a way to complain about the availability or pricing of drugs. By providing an online portal and mobile app through which consumers can vent their grievances, Indian authorities are trying to turn the country's vast population into a disaggregated army of whistleblowers.

The system has the potential to help India's National Pharma Pricing Authority (NPPA) overcome its shortcomings, many of which stem from the inherent difficulty of regulating a massive country with a finite budget. Applying IT to the problem means that instead of needing an NPPA official to visit every village in India to check the pricing and availability of drugs, the regulator can rely on the population to notify it of issues.

"NPPA has been searching for a weapon against black marketing and spurious medicines, and this portal will help them in that endeavour," Indian minister for chemicals and fertilizers Ananth Kumar told The Times of India. The online portal represents the first wave of the initiative, after which NPPA will focus on developing a mobile app. Regardless of the medium used to complain, NPPA is aiming to respond within 48 hours.

Gathering information from the public is just one part of the scheme, though. The other component entails building a database of drug pricing and availability using information received directly from pharma companies. To date, companies have registered 40,000 products with NPPA, giving the regulator the confidence to pitch for a May rollout of the finished database. A lot is resting on NPPA's ability to gather timely and accurate data from the industry.

"Unless we fix the back-end system, the scheme cannot be successful," an anonymous senior official said.

- read the TOI article