The Union Government has announced a planned expansion of its Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Jan Aushadhi Pari Yojana Kendra (PMBJPK) initiative, as Jan Aushadhi Diwas celebrations took place in recent days to celebrate efforts to increase access to medicines for the population.
The scheme’s vision is to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare through the provision of high-quality generic medicines at prices affordable to the consumer. At present, Jan Aushadhi kendras – the outlets which dispense the 900 medicines and 174 pieces of surgical equipment – number at 6,200 countrywide according to Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Choubey. He has pledged to scale up the number of such facilities to 10,000 by the end of 2024.
The expansion will also include an increase in the number of products dispensed. “The health ministry is planning to increase the number of medicines from 900 to 2,000 and surgical items from 174 to 300 by the end of 2024,” Choubey added.
Choubey’s announcement is in-keeping with previously-stated Government aims to ensure a kendra for every block – an objective affirmed by Minister of State Jitendra Singh. Singh underscored the rationale behind the PMBJPK and its kendras, stating “These centres have been established to provide generic drugs, which are available at lesser prices but are equivalent in quality and efficacy as expensive branded drugs.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi partook in Jan Aushadhi Diwas events over the weekend. “Every month, over one crore families seek drugs from these Kendras,” he said. “For instance, certain drugs for cancer in branded segments cost upto Rs 6,500 which are available in Jan Aushadhi Kendras at [a] rate of Rs 850. Nearly Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 crore are being saved for the common man by buying generic drugs.”
Modi outlined why the scheme is a necessity, asking “What to do to save every Indian from getting sick? Even if someone becomes ill, how can one get affordable treatment, to provide a sufficient amount of staff and doctors in hospitals, understand challenges and find its solution.”
The Prime Minister’s interactions with beneficiaries were highly publicised. In particular, the words of one woman who thanked Modi for what the scheme had done for her was shared by multiple media outlets.
“I could not speak,” said Deepah Shah, affected by a case of severe paralysis nine years ago, in a video first shared by ANI. “I was getting treatment but the medicines were very expensive. My husband is also disabled. It was very difficult to run the house. But, since the time I started getting your government’s medicines, I am better now.” According to Ms. Shah, she is now paying considerably less: thanks to Jan Aushadhi, medicines that once carried a price tag of Rs 12,000 now only cost her Rs 1,500.
ANI noted Modi’s “emotional reaction” to Ms. Shah’s testimonial, in which she said “I’ve not seen God, but I see God in you, Modi ji.”
Addressing Ms. Shah, Modi said “you have defeated disease with your own will power. Your courage is your god and that same courage has given you the strength to emerge from such a big crisis. You should carry on this confidence in you.” He also said that she could provide an example for her peers, saying “by seeing you countrymen would gain confidence that there is nothing wrong in generic medicines. These medicines are not at all of inferior quality than any other medicine. These medicines have been certified by the best laboratories. These medicines are made in India…and are cheap.”
Spending on pharmaceuticals is a major driver of the exorbitant costs incurred by Indians out of their own pocket for their healthcare needs. As recent research has pointed out, spending on pharmaceuticals comprise roughly 43 percent of out-of-pocket expenditure in India when it comes to healthcare.
World Bank data from 2016 indicated that out-of-pocket spending comprised 64.58 percent of the total expenditure on health in India. Last year, the National Health Authority pegged this proportion at 61 percent although other estimates posit the figure to be somewhere in the region of eighty percent.
To address the healthcare needs of Indians, in particular its most vulnerable demographics such as those who live below the poverty line, the Modi government has launched a number of schemes. Perhaps the most high-profile of these initiatives is the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, better known as Ayushman Bharat, which provides health insurance coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year among eligible beneficiaries. Continued efforts are needed to ensure that the cost of healthcare is not prohibitive for Indians and that universal health coverage in the country can be a reality.