A new way to get medicine to the poor

The Union government plans to open a national chain of what it calls “generic drug stores”, one in each district, to sell inexpensive, unbranded medicine with help from the Red Cross Society, non-governmental organizations, charitable bodies and consumer groups.

The government might finance operating costs of these stores for four to five years, but they will have to sustain themselves over time.

The ministry will soon issue ads inviting non-profit bodies to open generic drug stores and offer a 10-15% margin to meet expenses, the official said. The interested parties will have to begin by furnishing location details and available space. They would also need to hire a qualified pharmacist as required by law.

Prior to this the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers headed by Ram Vilas Paswan had thought of creating drug banks where retailers would supply medicines at half the retail price. That plan fell through due to “tepid industry participation.” This seems to be a factor that should be taken into consideration with the new generic drug store plan as well.

The Indian drug industry has supported the plan, hedging it with riders. “We are willing to run the extra mile if there is a scheme that benefits people and doesn’t eat into the companies’ profits,” said Daara Parel, secretary general of Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association, an industry lobby of small and medium domestic drug makers.

Tapan Ray, director general of the Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, a lobby of foreign-owned drug makers, said members will consider participation in the scheme if the government asks them to.

Could these far from enthusiastic responses coupled with political indecision spell doom for yet another innovative idea? Let’s hope not. However apart from the lack of excitement in the industry in my understanding there are other considerations which should be kept in mind for the implementation of this policy.

Firstly, appropriate non-governmental organisations will have to be identified.

Secondly, the scale of implementation will have to be decided, that is will the stores start first in one state and then after reviewing sales and feasibility then started elsewhere? How will the infrastructure for such a store be created? How will finance and supervise the building or leasing of premises?

Thirdly, moving to the drugs themselves – to what extent will these drugs cater to the medicinal needs of a district? What kind of capacity and storage is envisaged? What variety of medication will be offered?

Fourthly, assuming that not every district in India has a hospital then having such a store in each district is not entirely logical unless there is a medical practitioner qualified to diagnose as well as prescribe medication.

Lastly, under what over-arching organisational structure shall these stores operate? To which authority will they be responsible? The partnership with charitable bodies may facilitate implementation but also requires supervision.


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