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Free health check for seniors

New Delhi, Aug. 29: A network of central government clinics in Delhi will from September 1 offer free medical consultations to all senior citizens in a new initiative by the health ministry that may be expanded to other cities if the clinics can cope with demand.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan announced today that 20 clinics run by the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) — that exclusively caters to central government employees and their families — will offer all senior citizens free consultations.

“We will see how much demand accrues for the CGHS clinics and the ability of the clinics to handle demand from the general public before extending the services to more people in other cities,” Vardhan said in a statement issued through the Press Information Bureau.

The CGHS, which provides health care services to more than three million central government employees and their family members, runs over 250 dispensaries, 19 polyclinics, and 17 dental units across 25 cities, Calcutta among them.

While the clinics will provide free consultations to senior citizens — people aged 60 years or above — between 1.30pm and 3pm, they will not provide free medicines, a service that is currently provided only to government employees and their families.

Amid a steady rise in the country’s average adult life-span, India’s National Commission on Population had projected in 2006 that the number of people aged above 60 years would double from about 70 million in 2001 to 143 million by 2021.

“Senior citizens would greatly benefit from such free consultations, but the number of clinics and the infrastructure required to support such services will need to increase,” said Ashok Kumar Singh, the state head of HelpAge India in Lucknow.

HelpAge India itself, Singh said, provides free consultations and some treatment services through a network of 92 mobile units in cities in most of the states.

“Consultations in CGHS clinics would help reduce bills which in the private sector can be exorbitant.”