Budget 2013-14 is likely to provide for universal access to essential medicines, according to sources. However, for this, allocations to medicines need to be doubled.
According to the funding projections indicated in the 12th Plan document, allocations for essential medicines would be doubled. Health allocations as a whole would also be doubled towards the end of the five-year plan.
Government sources say that funds for medicines may be made available this year itself and once that happens, the programme would become a reality. There were apprehensions from several quarters, especially from members of the civil society, that the programme may not be launched due to lack of funds.
The government was supposed to launch in October 2012, but it could do it because the 12th Plan got delayed.
Ravi Duggal, senior analyst at International Budget Partnership, says that the programme requires at least 0.5 per cent of the GDP according to the estimates made by the high-level expert group set up by the Planning Commission. That amounts to Rs 30,000 crore or nearly half of the current health budget. The current budget is around 1 per cent of GDP and unless it goes up to 3 per cent, there is no way 0.5 per cent can be given for medicines, he adds.
He dismisses the promise of doubling of allocation towards the five-year Plan. "This is promised in every five-year Plan, but it seldom happens," he says.
Dr S Selvaraj, health economist and advisor to the High-Level Expert Group on Universal Health Care (HLEG) disagrees. According to him, there is no room for such apprehensions. "The HLEG does not say that we need Rs 30,000 or 0.5 percent of GDP for medicines immediately. That requirement would come at Stage 2, when private sector would also be brought under the ambit to provide access to medicines," he says.
He explains that the present requirement to roll out the programme is only 0.1 per cent of the GDP or about Rs 5,000-6,000 crore a year. "The 12th Plan has made provision for Rs 25,000 crore for medicines and that would suffice," he says.
About Rs 6,000 crore is being spent on medicines currently, Selvaraj adds. "This is expected to double in the coming Budget, if the universal access programme is to take place."