Congress Hopes To Thrive On Free Medicines
Prior to October 2012, the Congress party’s cadres in Rajasthan were skeptical about the party coming back to power in the December Assembly 2013 polls. The same workers used to feel that the Ashok Gehlot government, in spite of announcing various flagship welfare schemes, could not fulfil the aspirations of the people. But one scheme suddenly changed the fate of the party.
The state government’s unprecedented decision to start the Chief Minister’s Free Medicines Scheme in all government hospitals for rendering health care services to the poor sections has brought major relief to the poor and downtrodden. The people of the state have welcomed the scheme with enthusiasm and the number of outpatient department (OPD) in the government health institutions has increased three to five times. As part of the unique scheme, patients coming to the government hospitals are being provided with over 400 medicines and the necessary surgical items such as needle, disposable syringe, I.V. blood transfusion set and suture for sewing stitches free of cost.
This scheme, which was pioneered by Tamil Nadu, once introduced in the state, changed the fate of the government and arrested the falling popularity graph of the Gehlot government. “Prior to October 2012, we hoped that the BJP’s chances of regaining power was 70 per cent, while the Congress chances was a mere 30 per cent, but now just one free medicine scheme has suddenly snowballed the Congress fate and the trend has reversed and we put the Congress chances to win the Assembly poll and retain power to 70 per cent,” said Jagdish Gupta, a block- level BJP worker of Jaipur.
The Rs-760 crore scheme of free medicine has given a new confidence and trust to the people on government-provided health schemes. Under this scheme, 600 types of common essential generic medicines are being distributed free in the government hospitals. Large number of people, of all income groups, rather than going to the private practitioners, are going to the government hospitals and health centres and more than eight crore of population are availing the facilities of unlimited free medicines. This free medicine scheme was also extended to the animal husbandry sector and the veterinary hospitals, which started offering free medicines to the animals also.
Free medicines to animals have helped to save the lives of the livestock. In all, 77 varieties of drugs are being offered to the animal owners. Free medicines are being offered to the livestock through gaushalas and it has helped over 14 lakh abandoned cows. This also had a magical effect on the rural people, who depend on animal husbandry for their living. After the free medicine scheme, the state government announced the free diagnostic tests. Under this scheme, patients in Rajasthan will not have to pay for certain essential diagnostic tests in government hospitals.
The scheme was launched on the occasion of World Health Day at all the medical college hospitals and district hospitals across the state. This scheme, which was launched in April this year, gave the party a big boost, as the people, who were looted by the private diagnostics, started getting free diagnostic tests. There were difficulties in implementing such programmes but the government got a good support from the para-medical staff and the scheme is now a great success and is benefitting lakhs of people.
In the first phase of the scheme, 57 types of common essential tests were available for free at the medical college hospitals, whereas district hospitals, sub-divisional hospitals and satellite hospitals are offering 44 types of free testing.
In the second phase, 28 types of tests will be free at community health centres (CHCs), and under the third phase, from August 15, 15 types of tests will be made free at primary health centres (PHCs) and dispensaries.
The state government has provided succour to pregnant women and newborn children through the Rajasthan Janani-Shishu Suraksha, for encouraging institutional deliveries in the government medical institutions. Under the scheme, all new mothers and newborn babies in poor health are being provided with all kinds of free services such as medicines, diagnostic tests, food, transport, etc., for 30 days. The newly launched Shubh Lakshmi Yojna encourages the birth of the girl child. There is cash incentives for delivering a girl child, which is a unique scheme in the country. Under the Shubh Lakshmi scheme, the mother during the period of pregnancy would receive freebies worth Rs 6,000.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD), amazed with the success of the free medicines and diagnostic schemes, sent a delegation to Jaipur to study the free medicine scheme running successfully in the state. “We apprised the top brass of the ministry and senior officials of all the three services about the programme,” said Dr Ajay Mathur.
After viewing the run-away success of the scheme in Rajasthan, Union Minister of State for Defence, Jitendra Singh called the officials concerned for a discussion. “We want to learn from the state government’s experience with regard to the free medicines schemes. We keep running welfare schemes and programmes for armed forces veterans and will see how they can be improved,” said an official of the MoD.
Currently, the Defence Ministry is paying a huge sum on health services of ex-servicemen. It is incurring expenditure of nearly Rs 1,400 crore for 40 lakh ex-servicemen. The Rajasthan government is running the free medicine scheme, serving nearly two lakh patients every day.
“The Gehlot government’s free medicine and free diagnostic schemes are just an eyewash. The people are getting poor quality of medicines in the name of generic medicines. The Gehlot government has projected the free medicines as a novel scheme and the brilliance of the Chief Minister Gehlot. The tax-payer’s money is being used for publicity in the media. The Tamil Nadu government has been running this scheme successfully. The working group of the 12th Plan had suggested free medicine schemes for all in its report. The free medicines have become a liability, as the Gehlot government has not been able to use its machinery properly. The medicines meant for the poor are being sold privately by the doctors and paramedical staff. The free medicine scheme has generated more hard feelings because of the poor delivery system,” said Vasundhara Raje, BJP president and former Chief Minister of Rajasthan.
Pradesh Congress secretary, Sooraj Khatri, said the negative statement of the former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje only shows her concern, as the free medicines are proving to be a jackpot for the Congress and have improved its stocks in the minds of the people, who would vote for the Congress overwhelmingly now.
“A patient is admitted to a hospital on an average spend of Rs 4,382 per year during hospitalisation and out of this Rs 3,187 are spent on medicine and diagnostic tests alone. Thus, the poor find the expenses unaffordable and they often have to borrow money or sell their land or family assets for getting treatment. The Congress government has addressed to these sensitive issues and the free medicine scheme has done wonders. People are getting free medicines and there is sudden trust in the medical and health schemes of the state government. Long lines of people in government-run hospitals and health centres are proof of this. This has become a great welfare scheme, and surely the Congress would get the benefit of such schemes when the people go for poll in December this year,” said Khatri.
The medical shop owners and diagnostic clinics fear that their business would collapse after the freebies offered by the government. But there is no drop of sales and the patients still frequent the medical shops.
“The simple reason is the government doctors are prescribing generic medicines and surgical items. The people have no faith in the generic medicines and come to ask for medicines manufactured by the reputed companies, as they produce standard drugs. The diagnostic services of the government hospitals are not capable of handling such large number of patients. All the pathological tests are very important and quality tests and other diagnostics services are very important for future treatment. There are people who still feel that free diagnostic services by ill-equipped laboratories or diagnostic units are dangerous. There is no quality in delivery. Thus, people still come to us,” said Mahaveer Agarwal, a medical shop owner in Jaipur.
Dr Shamit Sharma, the principal medical and health secretary, said: “The medicines, surgical and diagnostic goods are purchased by the state government-owned, Rajasthan Medical Services Corporation and there is complete transparency in purchase, which is done after the committee approves the drugs and its prices. “We accept that the scope for corruption cannot be eliminated. But this is just an introductory year and things would improve after we learn from lessons. But one should admit that a large number of people, where the number is over eight crore, who were finding treatment unaffordable, are getting medicines. This scheme would be extended to smaller places and villages to serve the suffering at large,” said Dr Sharma.
Dr Mahesh Chaturvedi, a former professor of medicine in SMS Medical College, said that large-scale buying of generic drugs results in heavy discounts from manufacturers. But there is a need for keeping control on the quality of the drugs and every six months the drugs should be examined for their quality.
The Congress feels the free medicines and free diagnostic have improved the lot of the Congress and it would surely get the benefit of the welfare schemes, which would help it in retaining power.
An agency that undertakes the task of survey before election has found that prior to October 2012, when the scheme was not launched, the stocks of Congress were very low. But now the Congress has 50 per cent chances of coming back to power only because of the medical and pensions schemes that have helped eight crore persons.
By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur