Ministry instructs hospitals, medical centers to display the list
KATHMANDU, Dec 22: Though the government provides 72 types of medicines free of cost to the general public, the list of these essential drugs is not made public by most of the hospitals and primary health centers or by health posts in the districts.
After finding that hospitals don't make the list public, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has issued a circular strictly instructing health institutions to compulsorily put up a notice that the general public can easily see, to find out which are the medicines available free of cost.
Most of the government hospitals and public health institutions were recently found not displaying any notices regarding the free medicines, said Pratap Paudel, aide to Health Minister Gagan Thapa.
"After monitoring the hospitals and other health institutions, we have directed them all to put up notices listing the free medicines and stating the times for doctors' appointments," he said. "We have also instructed them to immediately procure the essential medicines in case of shortages and inform the higher authorities about the shortage."
According to Paudel, the district hospitals provide free of cost 70 items of medicine and the primary health centers and health posts 58 and 36 items respectively .
"A three-member committee has been formed under Dr Kiran Regmi to monitor the situation with regard to free and essential medicines at government health institutions," Paudel added.
With essential medicines out of stock in about one and a half dozen districts due to government negligence toward public health, the authorities are yet to take concrete measures to ensure that free medicines are easily available to the needy, said a senior official at MoH, requesting anonymity.
Neither are the medicines available to the public free of cost nor are health service providers themselves being supplied with these essential drugs, said officials at MoH.
Several officials also complained over the failure of the authorities concerned to make it mandatory for hospitals and other health institutions to put up notices listing the free medicines.
There are altogether 3,991 public hospitals, primary health centers and health posts across the country. According to MoH, 103 medicines under 72 categories of essential medicines, including paracetamol, iron tablets, antibiotics, vitamins, albendazole and oral rehydration salts (ORS), are provided free of cost by public health institutions.
The Department of Health Services procures medicines worth around Rs 800 million annually and distributes these in the districts. Additionally, the government has allocated Rs 390 million for the 75 districts this year to procure and supply essential medicines, according to the department.
MoH started distributing free medicines to the general public nine years ago when Giri Raj Mani Pokhrel was health minister. At that time 32 medicines were distributed free of cost from district hospitals and primary health centers and 22 medicines from health posts and sub-health posts .
The number of medicines on the free list was increased by successive governments.