As Prime Minister Modi completes a year in office this May, there will no doubt be many lists of this government’s achievements and comparison with the previous administration. As far as the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors are concerned, there is a lot that remains to be done to achieve the oft stated goal of universal health coverage.
One of the major disappointments is the Jan Aushadhi scheme, which was launched with much fanfare in 2008. Seven years down the line, the scheme had run out of steam but looks set for a revival this June. The revamped scheme is to be rolled out in six states initially, with a target of 5000 stores in three years. While the scheme aims to provide access to affordable medicines, the third A, availability, could remain a challenge. Our cover story in this issue analyses the various issues associated with the planned revamp and re-branding of this initiative. (Breathing jaan into Jan Aushadhi, pages 22- 25)
The private sector seems far from convinced that the re-branding will work. Attempts to recruit a senior industry professional to spearhead Jan Aushadhi as its CEO have so far been unsuccessful. Wariness of the red tapism that shrouds any government-promoted initiative is reportedly the main deterrent. Many kinks in the Jan Aushadhi scheme still need to be worked out and these will reduce the chances of success. For instance, the tedious tender process lends itself to corruption and delays. Any prospective CEO would want a shot at success rather than a venture already mired in controversy and worse, lethargy.
One of the major stumbling blocks to the smooth takeoff of Jan Aushadhi is that thanks to the hands-off stance of most established pharma manufacturers, the government will be forced to fall back on less established players from the MSME sector. With bigger pharma companies, including marquee names like Sun Pharma and Wockhardt themselves facing the ire of global regulators on the quality issue, MSME companies will have an even harder time negating this perception and standing up to public scrutiny. Public sector pharma units, many of which are defunct, are also not an option.
Is the private sector objecting to these initiatives solely because they want policy tuned to their growth strategies? Or will they be proved right? While policy makers are right not to give up, they have to quickly implement the success strategies of states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where centralised sourcing of medicines has given good results.
On the vaccine front too, the private sector seems dead against the government turning to PSUs. Keen to achieve some degree of vaccine security, the government is investing in PSU vaccine units but as another story in our cover section points out, here too policy makers could very well be on the wrong path. (PSU vaccine units:A ray of hope? pages 26-28) MSF recently launched a global social media campaign to pressurise vaccine majors to cut prices of their flu shots; maybe it is time for such a campaign in India as well.