India has set aside Rs.100 crore for providing free medicines to all patients attending a government hospital fom October under the free-medicines-for-all scheme.
Nearly 22 percent of the country’s population is dependent upon the government hospitals which is expected to increase to 52 percent by 2017. Currently, there are 160,000 divisional hospitals, 23,000 primary health centres, 5,000 community health centres and 640 district hospitals.
The ministry has sent the National List of Essential Medicines under which 348 drugs for anti-AIDS, analgesics, anti-ulcers, anti psychotic, sedatives, anesthetic agents, lipid lowering agents, steroids and anti platelet drugs.
States can add more medicines depending upon its regional requirement and 75 percent of the funds will be borne by the Centre and the rest will be the state’s responsibility. The Centre will set up a Central Procurement Agency (CPA) for procuring the bulk drugs. Currently, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan have their own corporations to provide bulk drugs.
According to the Planning Commission, nearly 39 million Indians fall under poverty due to ill health every year as 47 percent hospital admissions in rural areas are financed by loans and sale of assets while the rate is 31 percent in urban areas.
While the move to provide drugs freely is likely to go a long way, the scope for corruption lingers as ever with every government scheme in the country, known for its high incidence of corruption. While the government hospitals are known only for negligence till now, very soon corrupt clerks and medical staff will find ways to subvert the drugs and make money.
Instances where hospital drugs ended in private medical shops were many and some innovative ways of siphoning off money was evident in the past. In one hospital, government-supplied instruments in orthopaedics department were sold to the patients through medical shops in the vicinity. The patients were told to get these supplies from the designated medical shops, where they had to pay money and were told that the supplies will be made directly to the operation theatre. In fact, the operation theatre used these implants available within but patients were hoodwinked into believing that they had bought them from the shops outside.
India, known for its innovative ways of corruption, will have to see many such instances in future when the program rolls out. Who will keep an eye and how far can this be monitored will help its success.