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Jan Aushadhi's Uphill Battle: Corruption, Unethical Practices and Private Pharma Invasion

Beneath the surface of the noble Jan Aushadhi scheme lies a tangled web of corruption, unethical practices, and challenges that have left the most marginalised population still grappling with the burden of exorbitant medical expenses and compromised health.

By Saksham Agrawal
New Update

Produced below are the abridged version of the transcripts of the video story on the PM Jan Aushadhi scheme

The Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP) stands as a symbol of hope for millions of Indians struggling to access quality medicines at affordable prices. Launched initially by the UPA government in 2008 and later revived by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, the PMBJP aims to establish Janaushadhi centres across the country, offering generic drugs to the masses at reduced rates. For low-income families burdened by medical expenses, these stores have emerged as a ray of light, promising access to affordable healthcare. However, beneath the surface, the scheme is grappling with deep-rooted implementation challenges and corruption, threatening to compromise its noble objectives.

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The Dilemma of Affordable Healthcare

The PMBJP emerged as a glimmer of hope for countless Indians struggling to afford essential medicines. As Awadhesh Mishra, a consumer benefiting from the scheme admits, the difference in prices between general stores and Jan Aushadhi outlets is staggering. For instance, the medicine Istamet, which costs around 220 rupees in regular stores, is available for just 65 rupees in Jan Aushadhi centres. This substantial reduction in costs proves to be a significant relief for retired individuals or those facing income-related issues, considerably reducing their monthly medical expenses.

Unethical Practices and Corruption

Regrettably, not all is well within the Jan Aushadhi centres. Corruption permeates the system, resulting in the unfortunate reality that generic medicines are not being prescribed to patients. Dr. Narendra Gupta, a health activist from the People's Health Movement, highlights the scheme's limited reach to the public. Doctors, preferring to write prescriptions using brand names, often deprive patients of generic alternatives. Additionally, Jan Aushadhi stores have been found selling branded medicines illegally, defeating the very purpose of providing affordable generic drugs.

Jan Aushadhi Stores: An Unmet Promise

Despite the government's recent announcement to establish 10,000 new Jan Aushadhi centres by year-end, the scheme's execution has fallen far short of its ambitious promises. Over 15 years since its inception, successive governments have failed to deliver on their initial commitments. While there are currently 9,303 Jan Aushadhi stores across the country, the reality on the ground does not align with the scheme's grand vision.

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Shortcomings in Medicine Supply and Availability

A critical challenge plaguing Jan Aushadhi centres is the constant shortage of generic medicines. Shalini Sharma, a shopkeeper at a Jan Aushadhi store in Ghaziabad, reveals the frustrating lack of availability, leaving patients with limited or no access to crucial medicines like Insulin for diabetes. The unavailability of essential medications poses a serious threat to patients' health and trust in the scheme.

The Silent Collusion: Branded Medicines in Government Stores

Adding to the existing woes, the presence of branded medicines in Jan Aushadhi outlets emerges as a major issue. Prof. Bejon Kumar Misra, the founder of Patient Safety & Access Initiative of India Foundation (PSAIIF), points out the illegality of selling branded products in government centres. Store owners justify this practice as a means to serve patients when generic medicines are unavailable.

Despite the lofty promises made during the scheme's launch, the government has failed to provide adequate support for Jan Aushadhi stores to operate efficiently. The shortage of qualified pharmacists has become a major bottleneck, hindering the smooth functioning of these outlets. 

Prof. Bejon Kumar Misra, who has closely followed the PMBJP's journey, stresses the need for extensive expansion and availability of high-quality generic medicines at affordable prices. While the government claims to offer 1,800 medicines and 285 surgical products through Jan Aushadhi stores, the reality is quite different, with the majority of outlets failing to stock even 20-25 percent of the listed medicines, he says.

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Privatisation of Healthcare: A Looming Crisis

India's public healthcare system faces a worrying challenge as private pharmaceutical companies increasingly dominate the sector. Dr. Soumitra Ghosh, Chairperson of the Centre for Health Policy, Planning, and Management at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) states, “Less than 30 percent of the population has regular access to essential medicines. With a significant portion of healthcare services being provided by private players, the government's responsibility in ensuring affordable and accessible medical care remains questionable”.

A survey conducted by TISS in two districts of Maharashtra paints a grim picture of Jan Aushadhi medicines' availability. In both urban and rural settings, the availability of essential medicines at PMBJP stores was just around 50 percent, raising serious concerns about the scheme's effectiveness and implementation.

Dr. Gopal Dabade, the Convener of All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), says there are umpteen flaws in the supply chain and quality testing process of Jan Aushadhi medicines. “There is a need for a robust tracing and tracking mechanism to ensure that any substandard or unsafe medicine is recalled before it reaches consumers,” states Dabade.

While the PMBJP has reported substantial profits, Prof. Bejon Kumar Misra suggests redirecting these funds to support qualified pharmacists in setting up Jan Aushadhi stores across the country. By ensuring a steady supply of generic medicines and qualified personnel, the government can instil confidence in consumers and make the scheme more effective.

The Jan Aushadhi scheme's implementation issues and corruption have hindered its effectiveness in providing quality healthcare to the masses. The government needs to urgently address the supply chain, medicine availability, transparency, and awareness gaps. Without immediate reforms, the scheme's promise of affordable healthcare for all remains unfulfilled, leaving the most marginalised population vulnerable to a perpetual cycle of financial burden and compromised health outcomes.

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