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Health ministry's Amrit pharmacy scheme draws flak from healthcare industry amid govt’s success claims

Arun Srinivasan, New Delhi
Wednesday, January 10, 2018, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

An ambitious initiative of the ministry of health to reduce the expenditure incurred by patients on treatment of cancer and cardiovascular ailments is drawing flak from healthcare industry despite government’s success claims.

On the one hand, official statistics show that the government-run Amrit pharmacies have helped patients reduce their out-of-pocket expenditure to the tune of Rs. 231.34 crore. On the other hand, healthcare professionals and non-governmental organisations say that the whole programme is a sham and lacks transparency in pricing and product procurement.

The official data also revealed that Amrit, an acronym for affordable medicine and reliable implants for treatment, had benefited 44 lakh patients and the value of drugs dispensed at maximum retail price touched Rs. 417.73 crore.

Launched in 2015 by Union health minister JP Nadda, the country’s first Amrit outlet was opened at AIIMS in New Delhi to sell drugs at highly discounted rates. “We have identified 202 drugs of cancer and cardio-vascular diseases where the price is going to be reduced on an average by 60 to 90 per cent,” Nadda had said during the inauguration of the outlet.

Since then, as many as 105 pharmacies have been set up across 19 states for providing medicines for mainly cancer and cardio-vascular ailments. More than 5,000 drugs and other consumables are being sold at up to 60 per cent discounts. The government-owned HLL Lifecare is mandated to establish and run the chain of pharmacies across the country.

However, it is not all hunky-dory about the scheme that is seen by many as a lifesaver, say healthcare industry experts. “The devil is in the detail. The whole project lacks transparency in product pricing and procurement. Setting up retail outlets to offer medicines at reduced price is not going to make healthcare affordable to all. The government should step in and set price caps for essential medicines,” co-convener of non-profit All India Drugs Action Network Malini Aisola told Pharmabiz.

“The stores are set up at tertiary-care hospitals in the public sector which are expected to offer medicines and surgical implants to deserving patients free of charge or at a reduced price. Most Indians prefer to stay away from government hospitals, at least for surgeries, because of the abominable conditions there. Moreover, all government hospitals are not equipped to treat these serious diseases, a fact that forces even the poor to go to private hospitals,” said another medical professional who requested anonymity.   

Lack of awareness about scheme is also appalling. Two years after the launch of the programme, many in the medical fraternity also remain unaware of it. “I don’t know much about this initiative,” Health activist and ENT surgeon Dr Gopal Dabade said.

It may be noted that around 2.5 million Indians are living with cancer and 7 lakh new cases are reported annually. According to the Indian Heart Association, 50 per cent of all heart attacks in Indians occur under 50 years of age and 25 per cent of attacks happen under 40 years of age. City dwellers are three times more prone to heart attacks than people living in villages.


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