Unhealthy Practice

Moa Jamir

There is no disagreement that access to quality healthcare in Nagaland still remains a big challenge. The challenges include infrastructure, logistics, and shortage of healthcare workers. Often, these issues, particularly those in public healthcare, are often highlighted by the health workers themselves.

However, on the ground, things barely improve. For instance, most of the state's healthcare centres are unstaffed, lacking the required health professionals and equipment. Questionable practices also exist, defeating the whole purpose of well-intended policy initiatives.

Two such issues were recently highlighted by The Morung Express. The first pertains to a pharmacy that was reportedly flagged by the District Drug Control Authority in Dimapur for alleged questionable practices. The pharmacy, inaugurated in April 2019, happened to be a Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP) or the Prime Minister's All-India Public Medicine Scheme outlet.

To provide context, the PMBJP was launched by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, the Union Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilisers in November 2008 with the core objective of making quality generic medicines available at affordable prices to all. The aims include ensuring access to quality medicines for all sections of the population, especially the poor and deprived, and raising awareness about generic medicines to counter the perception that quality is synonymous with high prices only. According to the Janaushadhi website, as of March 31, 2023, the scheme offered around 1800 different drugs and 250 surgical items.

However, according to the report, the whole intention was defeated when the particular PMBJP outlet was alleged to be "operating a full-fledged pharmacy, selling branded drugs, without a valid license since 2020, in the space originally allotted for the Jan Aushadhi Centre." Although it was reported that the district Drugs Control Cell and the state Drugs Controlling and Licensing Authority had taken cognisance of the matter, it should be thoroughly investigated, and stringent measures should be taken to prevent such unhealthy and patently unethical practices in the future.

The Janaushadhi website further informs that there are 20 such outlets spread across different districts of Nagaland. Hence, if existing parameters are violated, as alleged in a place like Dimapur, with relatively higher public glare, the can be apprehension over the status in other outlets in Nagaland.

The second issue concerns a related development at the policy level – the approval of parallel pharmacies in all government hospitals, overlapping with the existing Jan Aushadhi Centres. If implemented, the proposed measure can, at best, be described as 'logic-defying' and, once again, a defeat of the existing scheme that aims to provide quality medicines at affordable prices to the masses, with their potency being "the same as compared to expensive branded medicines available in the open market," according to an official document.

Instead, if the intention is to help the general public, the concerned authorities must focus more on sensitising and creating awareness about Jan Aushadhi Centres through wide publicity. Concurrently, efforts should be made to reorient healthcare professionals to effectively implement the scheme.

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