Where are we now: assessing the price, availability and affordability of essential medicines in Delhi as India plans free medicine for all

Anita Kotwani
BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13: 285

BACKGROUND: Inequitable access to medicines is a major weakness in the Indian health care system. Baseline data needed to develop effective public health policy and provide equitable access to essential medicines. The present survey was conducted to investigate the price, availability, and affordability of fifty essential medicines in the public and private sector in Delhi, India using standardized WHO/HAI methodology.

METHODS: Data on procurement price and availability was collected (July-October 2011) from three public healthcare providers: the federal (central) government, state government and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). Data on price and availability of medicines was collected from private retail and chain pharmacies of a leading corporate house. Prices were compared to an international reference price (expressed as median price ratio-MPR).

RESULTS: The procurement price of surveyed medicines was 0.53-0.82 times the international reference price-IRP. However, the overall mean availability of surveyed medicines in facilities under state government and MCD was 41.3% and 23.2%, respectively. The overall mean availability of medicines in three tertiary care facilities operated by the federal government was 49.3%. Availability of generic medicines was much higher in the private sector. Off-patented medicines, like diazepam, diclofenac, and doxycycline had the highest MPRs. The price ratio between procurement and retail was as high as 28 (range 11-28) for certain medicines. Seven-day treatment with a popular brand of amoxicillin+clavulanic acid or one inhaler each of budesonide and salbutamol cost 2.3 and 1.4 days' wages for the lowest paid government worker. A majority of India's population cannot afford these prices.

CONCLUSIONS: This study revealed that procurement prices of surveyed medicines were reasonable in comparison to IRP. However, variation in procurement prices of certain medicines by different public procurement agencies was noted. Availability of medicines was very poor in public sector facilities, which are the primary source of free medicines for a majority of India's low-income population. Availability of medicines is better in private retail pharmacies but affordability remains a big challenge for a majority of the population. These data have significant policy implications that could help in amending policies to increase the access to essential medicines for India's population.

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