Around 800 million people in India — two-thirds of the population — lack access to essential drugs, according to the World Health Organisation. What’s more, about 20 million Indians slip below the poverty line every year because of the money they lose for falling ill.
alarming figures have prompted the Rajasthan government to pursue a programme to make free medicine a part of inclusive growth.
In October last year, chief minister Ashok Gehlot launched a programme to provide 385 generic drugs free at government health centres.
Though not the first-of-its-kind of initiative, the expanse of the programme makes it unique.
The medicines, distributed through 15,000 centres, include those for heart diseases, cancer, hypertension, diabetes and respiratory infections. Several vaccines are also provided.
The programme has led to a 40% increase in patient footfalls at government hospitals. About 200,000 people are getting free medicines every day.
For Nirmala Lalwani of Ajmer, the programme has “come as great relief for poor people like us”. Lalwani's husband suffers from diabetes, bronchitis and high blood pressure. "Earlier, a fifth of our income was spent on medicines. Sometimes, I had to borrow from neighbours,” she said.
Rajasthan ranks poorly on basic health indicators. About 44% children below the age of 3 suffer from malnutrition against the national average of 46%, while the corresponding number for women in the age group of 15 to 49 years is alarmingly high at 53% compared to the national average of 36%.
The programme, however, has had its share of problems. Government hospitals had initially struggled to handle the rush of medicine seekers. Non-availability of medicines continues to be reported from many places.
Satish Kumar, a retired government official in Sriganganagar, said, “The more expensive medicines are difficult to get.” The government is also motivating doctors to break the stranglehold of pharma firms. “Despite glitches, the scheme has been a success,” said Dr Samit Sharma, MD, Rajasthan Medical Service Corp Ltd, the nodal agency for procuring medicines in the state.
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