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India's 'Medicine Man' Collects Pills for the Poor in the National Capital

by Dr. Trupti Shirole on November 10, 2015 at 8:26 AM
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 India's 'Medicine Man' Collects Pills for the Poor in the National Capital

The World Health Organization estimates that 65% of the population lacks regular access to essential medicines. A 79-year-old man in Delhi calls to residents to bring out their medicines, rather than throw them away, to donate to the Indian capital's millions of desperate poor. 'Medicine Baba' Omkarnath Sharma is pounds the pavement in one of New Delhi's upscale neighborhoods early morning, collecting the leftover pills, capsules and syrups.

Sharma said, "All of us have some medicines lying around in our houses but we end up throwing them in the dustbin." In his trademark bright orange smock, Sharma cuts a familiar figure in Delhi's leafy neighborhoods, and residents routinely carry out handfuls of medicines for him. He said, "This idea struck me a few years back when I saw how the poor struggled to buy medicines. When I first started, I was ridiculed and called a beggar but now people respect what I am doing."

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At his rundown Delhi home, Sharma painstakingly checks and sorts his haul that includes everything from calcium tablets to antibiotics, before the queues form outside. He said, "Some medicines have to be stocked in the fridge, so I have to be very careful. All these medicines lying here are worth more than two million rupees ($30,864)."

India's generic drugs industry is a major supplier to the world of cheap, life-saving treatments for diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other diseases. But experts say even these are out of reach of many of the 363 million Indians living below the poverty line, who make up about 30% of the country's mammoth population.
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept to power at elections in May 2014, promised in his poll manifesto to introduce an ambitious universal health care plan that assures free drugs and insurance for serious ailments. But the plan, pegged initially at $26 billion over the next four years and envisioned to be fully operational by 2019, has been pushed back because of budget constraints.

A senior health ministry official said, "The scheme, with a planned roll out from April this year, was now on the back burner. It (the plan) could have been a game-changer. We are not sure now if it will see the light of the day."

Jagdish Prasad, director general of health services, acknowledged the problem facing those living on the margins, and that the government needed to do more. He said, "People are spending 60-70% out of their pockets for purchasing medicines which is a great burden for the poor. (We) must make a policy so that essential medicines are made available to those who cannot afford it."

Source: AFP
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