Health Minister Vardhan pushes for free medicine scheme

Health Minister Vardhan pushes for free medicine scheme

Aiming to reach out to the masses, the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre wants to quickly roll out a free drug distribution scheme, which ironically was conceptualised by the UPA-II government to reduce out-of-pocket-expenditure on health care.

Reduction of out-of-pocket-expenditure in health care is one of the promises BJP made in its election manifesto. A meeting of state health ministers may be convened soon to thrash out the problem areas before the scheme is made operational.

In a detailed review meeting held on Thursday, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan asked the officials to streamline the systems and work out logistical details before the Rs 28,000 crore scheme could be rolled out.

The Planning Commission had estimated that the free generic drug distribution programme would cost Rs 28,560 crore during the 12th Plan period (2012-17).

Even though the commission made its first financial allocation during 2012-13, the scheme did not take off because of logistical challenges.

“We need an information technology backed supply chain management system to ensure medicines are not stocked out and they are distributed before expiry dates.

In addition, good warehousing facilities are required,” an official handling the scheme told Deccan Herald. Under the programme, 348 drugs under the National List of Essential Medicines are to be provided free from 1.6 lakh sub-centres, 23,000 primary health centres, 5,000 community health centres and 640 district hospitals by the end of the programme.

India has one of the world’s highest average out-of-pocket-expenditure (74.4 per cent in 2011), which accounts for an average increase in poverty by 3.6 and 2.9 per cent for rural and urban areas respectively in 2009. Medicine cost is the principal contribution to a high out-of-pocket-expenditure.

The health ministry official said Pune-based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing had developed a solution for the supply chain management, which the health ministry was encouraging the states to adopt for running the free drug distribution scheme. “We will provide the necessary financial support,” he said.

The procurement of medicines will be done at the state-level following the Tamil Nadu model where a similar scheme has been successful.

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