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Centre’s attempt to sell low-cost drugs fails to make progress

Centre’s attempt to sell low-cost drugs fails to make progress
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First Published: Mon, May 10 2010. 10 20 PM IST
Updated: Mon, May 10 2010. 10 20 PM IST
New Delhi: India’s plan of setting up drug stores selling medicines at heavily discounted prices has hardly made progress a year-and-a-half into its launch, with only 44 shops being opened as of May.
Data released by the department of pharmaceuticals (DoP) of the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers, which is implementing the programme, show that 44 such stores are operational in seven states.
In June 2009, Mint reported that the Union government’s Jan Aushadhi campaign had managed to open a mere 11 shops against a target of 45 by March 2009. It is now apparent that the pace of implementation has not picked up.
This is despite the fact that a parliamentary standing committee on chemicals and fertilizers headed by Ananth Kumar, a member of Parliament of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, recommended that the scheme be made mandatory to all the states in the country.
“Not all states have shown interest in the programme since they need space for the store as well as volunteer organizations that would be willing to run the store,” said DoP secretary Ashok Kumar.
The department has three months to respond to the committee on its suggestion.
The Centre provides an initial amount of Rs2.5 lakh to an organization to set up a Jan Aushadhi store. Thereafter, the store is run independently, with the government providing it with medicines at subsidized prices.
The programme initially aimed to open a Jan Aushadhi store in each of the 626 districts in India by the end of 2011. But now Kumar said his department would help open 100 such shops by the end of the year.
Kumar pointed out that even if a store is established, doctors have to be made aware of it and asked by state governments to prescribe generic medicines rather than branded, more expensive drugs.
“I think the programme is very good, but it hasn’t got the kind of publicity it should have,” said S. Srinivasan, managing trustee of Baroda-based non-profit Low Cost Standard Therapeutics and member of the All India Drug Action Network. “Secondly, not enough doctors are prescribing Jan Aushadhi medicines. And that is the problem you face if you have a supply policy without a mechanism to generate demand.”
Last year DoP invited expressions of interest through a tender from various private drug firms that would be willing to sell medicines at no-profit or nominal profit for the campaign. As many as 76 private companies had shown interest. However, the tender has been put on hold.
“We can’t start the bidding process until we have enough volumes to place large, consistent orders with the private manufacturers,” said Kumar. Currently, the 231 types of medicines sold through the stores are made by state-owned firms.
The programme, which sells medicines at the Jan Aushadhi stores at almost 10% the cost of the generic medicines in the market, are trying to raise awareness about itself among doctors and consumers by tying up with the Jaago Grahak Jaago (consumer awareness) campaign, said Kumar.
radhieka.p@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, May 10 2010. 10 20 PM IST