Soon after Chief Minister Jayalalithaa made several key announcements in the medical field on Friday, certain segments in the healthcare sector were cheering wildly outside.

Providing free life-long immunosuppressants (for liver and renal transplants) for post-organ transplant patients has been the dream of many health care professionals involved in human organ transplantation.

Sunil Shroff, who started MOHAN Foundation to promote organ donation, says, “It is an excellent initiative. This type of initiative will go a long way in helping people who really suffer and are in need.” Immunosuppressants are drugs that are recommended for patients post transplant in order to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted organ.

Even the transplantation procedure is expensive, running to a few lakhs, and the immunosuppressant theory which is for life, is a certain drain on the finances of a family.

While transplants are already being performed free under the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme, so far, the patient would have to fund his or her own therapy. Some of the patients are clearly unable to afford the drugs, according to transplantation surgeons in the public sector. So even if the transplant surgery is successful, survival of the patient is in question. With free immunosuppressants now, the survivability factor increases manifold, they add.

S.Suresh, nephrologist at Sundaram Medical Foundation and medical advisor, TANKER Foundation, says, Tamil Nadu had once again taken the lead to roll out such a programme that will be beneficial to a large number of patients. A year’s supply of immunosuppressants, procured mass at subsidised rates, will cost about Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 1.5 lakh in the first year after transplant, he says. This is likely to go down in subsequent years, he added.

It is estimated that about 400-600 kidney transplants are being performed every year in Tamil Nadu, and about 150-200 liver transplants. Only a percentage of this is likely to fall under the State’s Health Insurance Scheme.

However, with free transplant surgeries and immunosuppressants being offered, this number will undoubtedly go up, says Dr. Suresh.

Another sector that has rejoiced over the announcements is the ENT field. Mohan Kameswaran, senior ENT surgeon, who has performed a record number of cochlear transplants, is thrilled. “We have been working to make cochlear implant affordable to poor children. And this is one of the most positive steps in a long while, one that we whole heartedly welcome.”

Considering that deafness is the commonest congenital anomaly, making cochlear implant surgeries free of cost would be a huge leap in restoring hearing to young children. In 99 per cent of the cases, with appropriate rehabilitation, children are able to lead a normal life, he says.

Bone marrow transplantation, yet another expensive procedure, has also been covered under the new scheme. However, some scientists have expressed doubts over including covering costs of stem cell transplantation at a time when even research in the field is at a nascent stage.