Since 2013, Maneka Gandhi, the minister of women and child development, doggedly wrote letters to the ministry of health and family welfare asking the central government to stop the “misuse” of the drug oxytocin. She even sought a ban on the sale of the drug, calling it “the single main disease-giving drug in India.” Gandhi’s claims have no scientific basis—in fact, the science shows that oxytocin is a life-saving drug that is widely used to prevent and treat postpartum haemorrhage, or bleeding following the delivery of a baby.
Oxytocin is naturally secreted by the pituitary glands as a chemical messenger in the brain, controlling key functions of the reproductive system, including childbirth and lactation, and other aspects of human behavior. It is chemically synthesised and sold by pharmaceutical companies across the world. The drug is commonly used to increase contractions during labour and it is essential for the prevention of postpartum haemorrhage, a leading cause of maternal mortality. In December 2015, the health ministry issued guidelines recommending the use of oxytocin for every single of the estimated 2.07 crore deliveries that are conducted in the country.
Yet, in April 2018, the government released a far reaching order to restrict manufacture and sale of the drug. At the time, oxytocin was sold by 112 manufacturers to people across India. But according to the health ministry’s April order, only one company would be granted the license to manufacture and sell the drug, which will vastly reduce the availability of the drug and may lead to an increase in maternal mortality. The government order was challenged before the Delhi High Court in August this year. On the last hearing, on 28 September, the court stayed the restriction on oxytocin till November this year.
The government order was the fruition of Maneka Gandhi’s incessant campaign, of almost two decades, against oxytocin. She has repeatedly claimed, without any scientific citations, that the drug can make cows barren and the milk produced harmful. In most of her arguments, Gandhi completely sidesteps the drug’s life-saving utility. Over the years, she has written letters to the health ministry, attended technical drug regulatory meetings, and been involved in communication about oxytocin between government departments that have no relation to her.
Maneka Gandhi is known to be a long-standing animal-rights activist, who has often taken up issues related to the ethical treatment of animals before the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation. Oxytocin is given to animals illegally, such as buffaloes, for maximum let-down of milk, and Gandhi’s position against the drug rests on allegations of animal abuse as well as purported health complications for humans. She elaborates her stance in a June 2016 article in Firstpost: