NATIONAL

Rajasthan launches free medicine scheme

Medicines being distributed free of cost to patients at the Jaipuria Government Hospital in Jaipur on Sunday. — Photo Rohit Jain Paras

Medicines being distributed free of cost to patients at the Jaipuria Government Hospital in Jaipur on Sunday. — Photo Rohit Jain Paras  

An ambitious scheme for distribution of free medicines at all government hospitals and health care institutions started here on Sunday amid reports of insufficient supply of drugs at several places and shortage of doctors, para-medical staff and pharmacists mainly at the primary health centres in villages. Long queues of patients were witnessed at the special counters opened for them.

The scheme, involving the supply of medicines free of cost to everyone visiting the out-patient department (OPD) of government hospitals across the State, marked Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary on Sunday. It has been widely acclaimed as a “bold and courageous” step set to benefit lakhs of poor and destitute people.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot launched the scheme at a function in Sawai Madhopur, calling upon the Medical and Health Department officials, chemists and elected representatives to take part actively in the scheme's implementation. He said the scheme was a major step towards providing social security to citizens.

Mr. Gehlot said the OPD patients would get 200 generic medicines in the first phase, while an identical number would be supplied during the second phase within the next three months. “The [State] Government will ensure that only the drugs of high quality are provided in a hassle-free manner.”

State Home Minister Shanti Dhariwal launched the scheme at Jaipuria Government Hospital in Jaipur in the presence of Jaipur City MP Mahesh Joshi and Rajya Sabha MP Ashk Ali Tak. Mr. Dhariwal said the generic drugs would treat the ailments as effectively as the branded medicines do.

Public health activists in the State, welcoming the launch of the scheme, have laid emphasis on taking action on major health issues to make the programme a success. They have in particular sought enactment of a free medicine law and a complete ban on private practice by the Government doctors.

The Jan Swasthya Abhiyan suggested at a State-level consultation of public health experts, civil society groups, academicians and human rights activists here over the weekend that a free medicine law be brought into force to ensure that each and everyone could avail of free medicines from public health care centres “as a matter of right”.

Such legislation would ensure that free medicines are available to people as and when required and in case it does not happen and if there are any cases of denial, legal action can be undertaken. “This would not only strengthen the free medicine provision, but also establish greater faith of people in the Government health service [delivery] system,” said Jan Swasthya Abhiyan convenor Narendra Gupta. Activists said whatever good is done by the free medicine scheme would be nullified unless the private practice by the Government doctors is regulated.

“Private practice encourages unethical conduct by health service providers and promotes irrational prescription practices leading to out-of-pocket expenditure [on treatment],” said Samagra Seva Sangh president Sawai Singh.

The Abhiyan also demanded that the user fee charged from patients at the government health facilities be abolished, while pointing out that it often prevents many poor people from accessing health care services or forces them to delay their treatment.

Abhiyan's joint convenor Amit Sengupta laid emphasis on the community's role in ensuring success of the scheme. The discussion on the quality of health care services concluded that there was an urgent need to evolve a system of citizen-based monitoring of these services throughout the State. The participants also expressed concern over the fact that hunger and malnutrition situation in the State was “fast worsening”.

Memorandum

A memorandum addressed to the Chief Minister raised the demands for statutory right to medicines, ban on doctors' private practice and discontinuation of user fee charged at the government hospitals.

Others who addressed the consultation included Kavita Srivastava of People's Union for Civil Liberties, Prem Ranjan of Action Aid, Nisha Siddhu of National Federation of Indian Women, Rajiv Nagpal of Plan India, Hitesh Gupta of Vatsalya and Nirmal Gurbani of the Indian Institute of Health Management Research.

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