New Delhi, Aug. 13: A network of public health organisations has complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his government has reneged on a promise to make free medicines available at public clinics he had made on Independence Day a year ago.
The network called the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), in a letter sent to Singh today, says developments over the past year suggest that the programme that pledged to distribute medicines free in government hospitals and health centres will be silently shelved.
“We urge you to redeem this promise... and take immediate steps to implement such a scheme across the country,” the letter signed by 77 representatives of public health organisations, many of whom are doctors or public health experts, said.
The JSA said Singh’s announcement last year had been widely appreciated because several surveys have indicated that expenditure on medicines account for up to 70 per cent of the personal expenditure incurred by families in India on healthcare.
The Union health ministry had in September 2012 promised to provide Rs 1,300 crore to states to purchase medicines and to establish a central procurement agency for the bulk procurement of medicines.
But the outlay for drugs procurement during 2013-14 was only Rs 100 crore. The JSA said a realistic estimate would show an actual requirement of at least Rs 6,000 crore.
“We don’t understand why the government has drifted away from this idea,” said Amit Sengupta, a physician and member of the JSA.
“This could make a significant difference to patients and the government could well have used this as an election plank,” Sengupta told The Telegraph.
The JSA said the availability of medicines could have dramatically improved the image of public health facilities in India and renewed public interest in these institutions.
At least three states —Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Rajasthan — have already implemented free medicine schemes and provide a model for other states.
Senior health ministry officials have indicated that the free medicines programme has not been abandoned but the ministry is waiting for feedback from states about requirements.
“The scheme in Tamil Nadu has shown how free medicines can make a huge difference to families of patients,” said Padmini Swaminathan, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, at the Hyderabad campus.
The JSA has pointed out that while 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 require.
The network said the scheme in Rajasthan appears to have led to an increase in the number of people accessing public health facilities there.
The free medicines scheme, the JSA said, “has a potential not only of ensuring people’s right over access to essential medicines, but also in strengthening the public healthcare system and in tackling poverty”.