A year since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised free medicines for all, little has been done towards this end, a health advocacy group pointed out in an open-letter to the PM.

India, which is seen as one of the hubs for cheap, generic medicines, has failed to bring quality healthcare to the majority of its population. Last year, Singh’s promise during the Independence Day address that free medicines would be distributed through Government hospitals and health centres had raised expectations in many quarters. However, the letter, written by Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and endorsed by many other health activists and organisations, expresses concerns that “developments over the past year suggest that the programme will be silently shelved.”

Following Singh’s announcement last year, in September the Health Ministry had promised to provide Rs 1,300 crore to States for purchasing medicines and setting up a Central Procurement Agency for bulk procurement of drugs. However, this did not come through, the letter notes, adding that for the current year the budgetary allotment for the medicines scheme was just Rs 100 crore, while realistically the scheme would require at least Rs 6,000 crore. According to Planning Commission estimates, that out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare, which accounts for 70 per cent of all health care expenditure in India, is responsible for pushing over 5 crore people below the poverty line every year.

(This article was published on August 14, 2013)
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