Thursday, November 08, 2012

Free medicine program about to begin in Rajasthan, India

One of the most populated states in India is about to begin a free medicine program. 68 million people in Rajasthan can now have access to over 300 generic drugs for free. After people see a doctor and get a prescription they can go to over 13,000 drug distribution centers throughout the state. The government buys the generic drugs directly from manufacturers. Doctors however, are upset by the scheme as it makes it harder for them to prescribe more expensive brand-name medicines for a profit.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Zofeen Ebrahim received a description of the program.
“(This) has broken the cosy relationship enjoyed for decades between doctors and (drug) manufacturers,” Dr. Nirmal Kumar Gurbani, advisor to the Rajasthan Medical Service Corporation (RMSC) that was constituted by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to run the scheme, said during a presentation at the Second Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Beijing last week.
Gurbani, a professor at the Indian Institute of Health Management and Research (IIHMR), added that the ‘Rajasthan model’ is being used as pilot for a similar scheme throughout India, which could bring free drugs to the country’s 1.2 billion residents.
Gurbani, a former secretary of the Essential Drug List Committee for the Rajsathan state government, says medical expenses are the second most common cause of rural indebtedness in India.
Citing official data, he told the audience at the conference that more than 40 percent of those hospitalised in India needed to borrow money or sell assets in order to afford treatment.
The cost of a single hospitalisation has pushed 35 percent of patients below the poverty line. In fact, unaffordable healthcare has prevented over 23 percent of the sick from consulting a doctor.
The scarcity of medical professionals has contributed to healthcare costs reaching astronomical rates. According to the World Health Organisation, India has just 6.5 physicians to every 10,000 patients. By comparison, China has 14.2 doctors, while Britain has 27.4 physicians for the same number of patients.
The expenditure on drugs alone constitutes between 50 to 80 percent of healthcare costs in India. And all this in a country regarded as the “world’s pharmacy”, Gurbani lamented.
India’s pharmaceutical industry is the third largest in the world with annual production of about 25 billion dollars and domestic sales amounting to 12 billion dollars. India exported medicines worth 13.2 billion dollars in the last fiscal and the government plans to double it to 25 billion dollars by March 2014.
And yet, said Gurbani, “two-thirds of the population do not have regular access to essential drugs.”

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