At a time when the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) is planning to revive the Jan Aushadhi Scheme, selling generic medicines at a fraction of the cost of branded drugs through designated Jan Aushadhi Stores (JAS), states like Gujarat have not yet drawn up any concrete plan to take benefit from the scheme. For that matter, Gujarat is yet to have a single JAS.
According to sources in the department of pharmaceuticals, plans are afoot to open around 500 new JAS across India by the end of the fiscal, and in a significant move now, the department is also planning to open the scheme to individual pharmacists who wish to run such stores, as against the earlier requirement of a government nodal agency or a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that the state government nominates to operate JAS.
"We are planning to add 500 new stores within the end of this fiscal, and are working out the investment plans as well as talking to different state governments. In order to popularise the scheme and expand its reach to more patients, we are now opening up the scheme to individual pharmacists," the official said.
Earlier, state governments were expected to allocate space at government hospitals where the operating agency could run the store.
Jan Aushadhi scheme may not be picking up in Gujarat the state is already distributing free medicines to the poor patients at government hospitals though the Gujarat Medical Services Corporation (GMSC). However, in the new model stores could come up almost about anywhere enabling better access to patients. Anyone can go to a JAS to buy generic medicines, in short, it would not be restricted to below-poverty-line families.
A senior official in the Gujarat health department said, "We cannot provide space for opening such stores at government hospitals, as there is already a lot of space crunch. As for generic medicines, we encourage our government doctors to prescribe generic names. But, now in case individual pharmacists are allowed to open JAS, it would be a cumbersome process to check the quality of medicines sold at these stores and from where do they source them. This means additional burden for our food and drug control administration."
Sensing an opportunity for employment for pharmacists, the Indian Pharmacist Association (IPA) had written a letter to the secretary of the ministry of fertilisers and chemicals, department of pharmaceuticals, urging the department to consider giving a one-time financial assistance to pharmacists keen to open such stores.
Jobs for pharmacists have been on a slow lane in Gujarat in the last few years. The Gujarat State Pharmacy Council (GSPC) alleged that hardly 10 per cent of pharmacists who pass out from the state every year get suitable jobs, most end up as medical representatives and sales persons. Pradip Trivedi, president, GSPC said, " Around 2,500-2,800 students pass out every year in Gujarat at present. This has come down significantly in the last few years. Around three to four years back, the student turnout was much higher at around 4,000 to 5,000 students per year, but at present, there are hardly 70 operational pharmacy colleges in the state which are also not getting seats filled up." Of the 5,500 seats in pharmacy colleges in the state, around 2,000 were filled last year.
However, in order to open JAS, which would be selling generic medicines, a must pre-condition is that doctors' prescriptions mention generic names. The department of pharmaceutical official said that state governments need to take a pro-active role in passing a mandate that all government doctors should prescribe medicines in generic names, and not only that even private doctors should mention generic names even if they prescribe specific brands. "The state governments need to take steps to implement the scheme at district levels, and the main criterion is to mandate prescription of generic names and also inspections through the state food and drug control agency to check that the same is done," said the official.