India pledges free generic drugs for citizens

India has put in place a $US5 billion policy to provide free medicine to its people.

From city hospitals to tiny rural clinics, India’s public doctors will soon be able to prescribe free drugs to every patient.

But the medicines must be generic – branded drugs are banned from the government list.

It’s a huge boost for a country where public health spending last year was just $4.50 per person.

But it’s bad news for big pharmaceutical companies – cutting their supply to one of the world’s fastest-growing drug markets.

Under the plan, doctors will be limited to a generics-only drug list and face punishment for prescribing branded medicines.

Within five years, up to half of India’s 1.2 billion people are likely to take advantage of the scheme, the government says.

In March, India granted a licence allowing a domestic drugmaker to manufacture a copy-cat version of Nexavar, a cancer drug developed by Germany’s Bayer. The move unnerved foreign drugmakers but enabled Natco Pharma to sell its generic drug at 8,800 rupees per monthly dose, a fraction of the 280,000 rupees Bayer’s branded version cost.

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