Presenting the Union Budget for the financial year 2020-21, Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman announced a proposal to expand government-run Jan Aushadhi Kendras to all districts in the country.
The Jan Aushadhi Kendras are essentially pharmacy centres that provide people with the generic medicines they require at affordable prices. Generic medicines are chemically composed of the same compound as a brand-name drug. One common example of a generic drug is paracetamol, which can be found in a number of compositions and combinations, including Dolo and Crocin.
The Finance Minister stated that this decision would allow for easy and widespread access to medication for all. However, several experts from the public health sector have expressed their concerns over this.
“Expansion of Jan Aushadhi centres won’t make a difference unless it is coupled with strong regulation-binding doctors, especially those in private practice, to prescribe medicines in generic names. This is one of the reasons why the whole Jan Aushadhi program has, more or less, been a failure and only a meagre number of people are able to benefit from it,” states Chhaya Pachauli, a member of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a people’s health collective.
Echoing this is public health expert Dr Sylvia Karpagam, who feels that improvements to the existing Jan Aushadhi Kendras are required to make it an initiative that will truly help those who are underprivileged and do not have the adequate means to access low-cost medications.
“Doctors too need to be told to prescribe generic medicines and not just brand names in practice. This way, in addition to having expanded Jan Aushadhi to all districts, it will make it easier for those who require these medicines to be able to procure them without it taking a significant toll on their finances,” she says.
This year the government has allocated Rs 69,000 crore for the health sector.
The government-run Department of Pharmaceuticals introduced the Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Jan Aushadhi Pariyojana Kendra (PMBJP) to provide medicines of good quality at affordable prices through the Jan Aushadhi Kendras in 2014. This is overseen by the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI).