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Monday, 19 August 2013

Health professionals concerned over govt's apathy on PM's promise of free medicines to all

A large number of public health professionals, on behalf of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, an NGO working in the health sector, have expressed concern over the central government's indifferent attitude towards implementing the free medicines programme announced by prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his Independence Day speech in 2012.
The scheme, if implemented, would have significantly changed the healthcare scene in India, the health professionals in an open letter to prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh said and regretted that 'one year after this announcement, there are enough indications that the programme of free medicines distributing through government hospitals and health centres will be silently shelved'.
The availability of medicines will contribute to the image of public healthcare institutions and will renew interest among public in these institutions. Experiences within our own country that such a scheme can make a huge difference to health outcomes. Significant progress has been achieved in states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and more recently in Rajasthan, where free medicines schemes have been implemented. The experiences of these states show that medicines procured in bulk by their generic names cost 40-4000 per cent less to that of the market rates. Reports from Rajasthan suggest that the scheme has led to considerable increase in the number of people accessing public health centres in the state, the health professionals said.
The open letter further says that following the prime minister's announcement in September 2012, the health minister had promised to provideRs.1,300 crore to states for the purchase of medicines and setting up of a Central Procurement Agency for bulk procurement of drugs. Unfortunately, these promises have not been realised. Instead, the budgetary allotment for the current year on the medicines scheme was a mere sum of Rs.100 crore, though a realistic estimate would show an actual requirement of at least Rs.6,000 crore.
“While your announcement was widely appreciated and highlighted in the national and international media, we in the public health community had specific reasons to welcome the announcement as a promising initiative. Various surveys have reported that households in India spend significant amounts on medicines, and expenditure on medicines account for 70 per cent of out of pocket expenses incurred by families on medical care. Expenditure on buying medicines, thus, is a major portion of private expenditure on health care.
“The Planning Commission estimates that out of pocket expenditure, which accounts for 70 per cent of all health care expenditure in India, is responsible for pushing over five crore people below the poverty line every year. Even though India is the world’s third largest producer of medicines and exports medicines to over 200 countries, an estimated 65 per cent of its population is not able to access all the medicines they need. Medicine prices have shot up phenomenally in India over the past decade and this has been one of the main drivers of the multiplying cost of medical care,” the open letter which was sent to the PM on the eve of his Independence Day speech said.
The health professionals urged the PM to redeem his promise of making available free medicines in all public facilities and take immediate steps to implement such a scheme across the country. This has a potential not only of ensuring people’s right over access to essential medicines, but also in strengthening the public healthcare system as well as in tackling poverty, they said.


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