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Govt launches schemes for free generic drugs at health centres

NEW DELHI: Union Health Ministry's ambitious schemes of providing free generic drugs at government health care centres have been launched after being put on hold last year due to financial constraints. 

The initiatives, called 'Free Drug Service' and 'Free Diagnostics Service' under 
the National Health Mission, are aimed at sprucing up health care facilities in the country. 

The Health Ministry has written to the states to take advantage of this scheme under which they can access funds from the central government by following certain guidelines laid down by it. 

The guidelines include appropriate systems for procurement, logistics, quality assurance, among others. The scheme was one of the government's keystone projects of the 12th Five Year Plan. 

"A person's medical expenditure in our country can be very high and people often end up in poverty while seeking treatment. Almost 33 per cent people suffer from poverty due to their medical expenditures," an official said. 

"Public can avail free drugs and free diagnostics services at the government health centres and hospitals if the states initiate the scheme. But to access the funds, the states will have to follow certain guidelines given by the Ministry," he said. 

The directions for accessing the funds make it mandatory for a state to have a clearly notified policy of providing free essential drugs and diagnostics to all patients coming to public sector facilities at least up to district hospital level. 

The state should have a robust procurement, logistics and supply chain system that is backed by Information technology. 

It must have differential facility-wise Essential Drug list/diagnostics list depending on the nature of the facility and a sound drug regulatory and quality assurance system. 

The state should have adopted Standard Treatment Guidelines and provide for prescription audits to ensure rational use of drugs and it should name the initiative as 'National Health Mission-Free Drug Service' or 'National Health Mission-Free Diagnostic Service' or its translation in Hindi or regional language. 

The free generic drugs scheme was proposed after a 2011 report of the High Level Expert Group which stated that 76 per cent of the out-of-pocket expenditure on health is on drugs.