Opinion

Band-aid patches

R Srinivasan | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on November 18, 2015

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Tokenism won’t solve the affordable medicines issue

The NDA government appears to have a penchant for launching schemes that lend themselves to clever acronyms. So you have the MUDRA (Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency) Bank. Mudra also means monetary in Hindi. Piyush Goyal’s new project to revive State electricity distribution utilities is called UDAY (Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana). And conveniently, uday also means to rise. The latest alphabet soup scheme is the AMRIT, or Affordable Medicines and Reliable Implants for Treatment scheme. Amrit is the Sanskrit name for the celestial nectar which is supposed to imbue its drinker with immortality, a nice touch for a scheme meant to provide lifesaving drugs and surgical implants for the poor. The first AMRIT store was inaugurated by Health Minister JP Nadda in Delhi’s AIIMS hospital last week. The idea is to open such stores in major central government-run hospitals and regional cancer care centres over time.

The idea is not bad in itself. Patients can get critical chemotherapy drugs at prices over 90 per cent cheaper than the market, and cardiac implants at between half to 60 per cent of market cost. But is it scaleable? How many central government-run hospitals are there in the country anyway? And what percentage of the population do they reach? If this has to be expanded to State government-run hospitals, where will the money come from?

In the absence of clear answers to such questions, AMRIT is likely to join the long list of band-aid patches that governments have applied to our mortally wounded public healthcare system. Affordable medicines are a priority in India, where less than a third of the population has any kind of healthcare cover. A 2010 PwC report estimated that 80 per cent of healthcare expenses are met out of pocket by individuals. By the Centre’s own estimates, over a million people are pushed back into poverty due to ‘catastrophic’ medical expenses. But a handful of government-run stores is not going to fix this.

Senior Associate Editor

Published on November 18, 2015
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