After bandying its Rs 6,000-crore a year scheme to provide free generic drugs at government health centres and hospitals for a year,the health ministry has now shelved the plan. The reasons are financial constraints and its inability to get in place a drug procurement policy in the last 18 months. The scheme was one of the cornerstones of the 12th Five Year Plan. Now states have been asked to formulate their own free drugs schemes and seek funds under the National Health Mission.
The move to make it mandatory for doctors to prescribe drugs by their generic and not brand names also seems to have fizzled out. The exception is a Medical Council of India circular to government medical colleges and hospitals earlier this year but that had little effect.
The free generic drugs plan was the outcome of the report of the High Level Expert Group appointed by the plan panel in 2011 to look into the Universal Health Coverage plan. HLEG had reported that 76 per cent of the out of pocket expenditure on health is on drugs.
We have neither the kind of resources that a nationwide free drugs scheme requires nor the infrastructure to ensure glitch-free procurement and distribution of drugs. Attempting something so ambitious without the infrastructure would amount to courting trouble and even possible litigations. At this moment we can only support states if they formulate their schemes and come to us with adequate facilities for warehousing and an IT-enabled supply chain. Many states have started giving free drugs too, said an official.
The Central Procurement Agency (CPA),first conceived in 2011,too is a non-starter. It was initially supposed to procure drugs and vaccines worth about Rs 2,000 crore under NRHM but was eventually set to become a one-stop shop for drug procurement.
The health ministry has been unable to finalise an officer to head it. After several aborted attempts,now a new shortlist has now been prepared.