The Arogya Kiranam scheme being rolled out in the State on Gandhi Jayanthi Day is definitely the first-of-its-kind in the country and a fine model for all States to emulate, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi said here on Sunday.

Lauding the initiatives of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government in the State, Ms. Gandhi formally launched the programme which guaranteed free medical care to all up to the age of 18 in government hospitals, for all maladies and medical interventions, including expensive surgeries.

She launched another programme which guaranteed the supply of generic medicines free of cost to all except government employees and income-tax-payers. Ms. Gandhi said she was impressed by the sheer magnitude of these new initiatives. “More than five lakh children would annually receive the benefits of the Arogya Kiranam scheme [alone],” she said, expressing confidence that help from these schemes would flow unhindered to the target groups.

The UDF got the reins of the government in the State in 2011 after five years of Left Democratic Front (LDF) rule that had taken the State “20 years back.” The UDF had since then taken the State forward, with several landmark initiatives, she said.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who presided over the meeting, said the challenge for the Union and the State governments now was to ensure that all sections of people received the advantages of the advances made in healthcare. The best treatment was available in the country, but the cost was way beyond the reach of the poor.

The UPA government at the Centre had already implemented many revolutionary initiatives to empower the people. On the anvil would surely be a programme to ensure the people’s right to good health, he said. Finance Minister K.M. Mani; Minister for Panchayats and Social Welfare M.K. Muneer; Labour Minister Shibu Baby John; Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor; and K. Muraleedharan, MLA; addressed the gathering.

Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi and KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala were on the dais. Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar welcomed the gathering.