sing the dying telegram as a tool to bring attention to the thousands of people languishing without access to medicines, Oxfam India sent telegrams to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to remind him of his promise to formulate a scheme for distribution of free medicines through government health centres to all, which he declared from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 last year. 

Oxfam India employees began the three-day campaign on Thursday by sending a telegram to the Prime Minister reading: “AUGUST 15TH, 2012 YOU PRESCRIBED FREE MEDICINES FOR ALL FROM RED FORT. I AM STILL WAITING AT THE COUNTER.” Over the next three days, hundreds of such telegrams were sent from across the country. 

Claiming that over 65 per cent Indians do not have regular access to essential medicines, the organisation also asked people to send postcards to the Prime Minister to build pressure on the government to implement the free medicine scheme immediately. 

In September 2012, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had announced to provide Rs. 1,300 crore to the States for purchasing medicines and setting up a Central Procurement Agency for bulk procurement of drugs. However, the scheme has not taken off yet. The States, which do not have the financial resources, have refused to implement the scheme unless the Centre provides them adequate funds for procuring medicines. The Planning Commission has not been able to allocate money for this scheme citing fund constraints, Oxfam India said. 

Avinash Kumar, director of Policy, Research and Campaigns, Oxfam India, said, “The world is changing so fast that the telegram service which was introduced in 1855 has become outmoded but our policies are still primitive and we are not able to secure basic drugs for all. We still witness hundreds of thousands maternal deaths, malnourished children and people spending half their salaries on medicines. So just like the telegram is a dying technology and has been taken over by new technologies, we will have to keep banging the doors of those who can make the difference to wake up and bring necessary changes in schemes and policies.” 

According to the World Health Organisation, over 65 per cent Indians do not have regular access to essential medicines. Every year, people spend huge amounts of money on medicines. Medicines account for 72 per cent of the total out-of-pocket expenses. This means people spend Rs. 161,704 crore on medicines every year and on an average, every individual spends about Rs. 1,336 every year on medicines or Rs. 3.66 every day. 

The telegram service, which is the last large-scale telegram service operating in the world, will cease on July 15 after serving the nation for 160 years. Telegrams were symbol of urgency. Right now, the urgency is to saving millions of lives! 

Oxfam is marking its 62nd year in India this year. Oxfam India, a fully independent Indian organisation (with Indian staff and an Indian Board) is a member of a global confederation of 17 Oxfams. The Oxfams are rights-based organisations that fight poverty and injustice by linking grassroots programming (through partner NGOs) to local, national and global advocacy and policy-making.

Telegrams have been sent from across the country to remind the Prime Minister of his last year’s commitment to distribute free medicine to all