Mumbai (AsiaNews / Agencies) - More than half of India's population will soon be able to get medical treatment for free. The central government has in fact initiated a 5.4 billion dollar project, which includes the distribution of generic drugs at no cost. The decision has already attracted strong criticism from major foreign pharmaceutical companies, who accuse the authorities of undermining the market to attract consensus in the general election of 2014. However, if it were to remain unchanged, the project promises to change the lives of millions of people, and the face of the entire health system in India.
Whether they work in large urban hospitals or clinics in small rural areas, doctors can prescribe state funded generic medicines to all patients. According to the government plan, if found to prescribe "brand" medicines, the doctor will incur fines of varying extent. However, doctors will be able to spend 5% of their total budget (approximately 50 million dollars per year) in brand-name drugs that have no generic equivalent. The situation of those who work in private clinics and hospitals remains unchanged.
The plan is revolutionary, especially in a country like India where health care is still considered a luxury good: private hospitals cost on average four times more than the state hospitals, despite the 40% of the population living with just 1. 25 dollars per day.
According to the government, within five years at least half the Indian population (about 1.2 billion people) will benefit from this service. "The government policy - said LC Goyal, Adjunct Secretary in the Ministry of Health -is to promote greater and more rational use of generic drugs, which meet every standard of quality, but cost much less than the brand."
Pharmaceutical companies worldwide - including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck - will be among the most affected by this project. Every year they spend billions of dollars in research, with the aim of promoting a solid brand name drugs in emerging economies (like India), where 90% of drug sales is represented by generic drugs.
In India, the American company Abbott Laboratories and GlaxoSmithKline are the largest distributors of drugs, both brand and generic. In 2010, the first bought an Indian company that produced generic drugs.