The Rajasthan Jan Swasthya Abhiyan has welcomed the State Government's decision to provide free medicines to all patients at government hospitals from this coming October 2 and described the move as a “path-breaking initiative” that would bring about positive changes and ensure universal health care services.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had recently announced that the government hospitals would provide medicines free of cost to all patients registering themselves for treatment.

The project, to be launched on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary, will cover everyone below and above the poverty line categories approaching the public health institutions for treatment.

Jan Swasthya Abhiyan – functioning as the State chapter of People's Health Movement – has been advocating free treatment to all for years now and made a strong pitch for it in the recent past through a demonstration outside the State Assembly, rallies at district headquarters, public meetings in towns and delegations to the Medical and Health Department authorities.

Abhiyan convenor Narendra Gupta pointed out here on Tuesday that a “very forceful plea” for free medicines for all was made during a pre-Budget consultation with civil society groups organised by Mr. Gehlot on February 24 last. He said the landmark decision would increase common people's access to treatment several folds and check the disturbing trend of 40 per cent of the patients sliding down in poverty after a single hospitalisation.

“Free treatment would also eliminate [the use of] unnecessary and unreasonable medicines and save the efficacy of drugs for future generations.”

While acknowledging the significance of the first step accomplished for protecting the health status of people, the Abhiyan said its execution was going to be a challenging task. The State Government must study the best models existing elsewhere and try to replicate them in the state, he said.

Civil society role

The Abhiyan will be holding a consultation at Samagra Seva Sangh headquarters here on May 23 and 24 to deliberate on the role of civil society organisations in matters such as citizen-based monitoring, safeguarding of health care as a right and regulation of private health sector.

Dr. Gupta, who also runs Prayas Centre for Health Equity in Chittaurgarh, said the community members could play a significant role in deciding the issues that the Health Department must take into account while executing the new programme. Besides, various components of the National Rural Health Mission would derive new perceptions.

The citizen-based monitoring for delivery of quality health services would be an important aspect in the new arrangement, said the medical activist. This has become important in the wake of recent serial maternal deaths at Umaid Hospital in Jodhpur. The findings of an investigation into these deaths would be released at the consultation.

Dr. Gupta said the major intricacies in the implementation of free medicine system should be addressed while identifying the role of the various stakeholders. Health care should also be treated as an essential right in reference to the draft Rajasthan Public Services Guarantee Bill, 2011, prepared by the State Government's Administrative Reforms Department, he added.

The two-day consultation would be attended by representatives of civil society groups and voluntary organisations from all over the State together with government officials, health activists, academicians and concerned citizens.