Although India is a major manufacturer and exporter of generic drugs, most of the drugs produced in-country are not readily available domestically. As generic drugs are anywhere from 2 to 10 times cheaper than branded drugs, this means dramatically higher costs for Indian consumers, 56% percent of whom lack “the financial means to meet their basic needs.” The difference in price is visible when looking at the cost of commonly used prescriptions; for example, a 10-day supply of branded Atorvastatin (for hypertension) costs approximately 98 rupees ($1.56), whereas the generic drug costs 12 rupees ($0.19). Similarly, a 10-day supply of the generic version of Cetrazine (for allergy) is 2.90 rupees ($0.05), but costs 37.50 rupees ($0.61) for the branded version.
The need for affordable generic drugs is especially urgent in rural communities, where treatable communicable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria are commonplace, and chronic diseases, such diabetes, are on the rise. The Dharwad-Hubli district of Southern India is no exception, with most households relying on one wage-earner working seasonally in agriculture, making medication too costly for the average family. The Dharwad-Hubli district has had a recent exciting development, however: Jagruti, a long-time translation partner of Hesperian Health Guides, in coordination with Drug Action Forum—Karnataka has just launched the Dharwad Generic Drug House, which will bring low-cost generic drugs to the municipality. Inspired by Alma Ata and the work of the People’s Health Movement, the Drug action forum was formed by rural doctors in Karnataka, who felt that “…the cost and use of medicines was forcing several families to penury,” and that accessible medicines and primary health care are an essential human right.
Dr. Gopal Dabade, head of Jagruti, says that the Dharwad Generic Drug House will target people affected by hypertension and diabetes since these conditions can be easily treated with standard generic drugs and they are major diseases of poor people in the Dharwad region. The Dharwad Generic Drug House is providing generic drugs at a fraction of the cost of name-brand drugs and offers convenient hours that accommodate the schedules of working patients. The staff of the pharmacy, Mr. Shivarao Desai (a licensed pharmacist) and other volunteers, are not only filling prescriptions, but doing community outreach to the people of Dharwad to promote their services.
Since many people in Dharwad are unfamiliar with generic drugs, the pharmacy team has prepared traditional Yakshagana theatre performances to inform people of the benefits and safety of generic drugs and how they might buy generic drugs from the Dharwad Generic Drug House. Of the performances, Dr. Dabade says, “At the beginning of the performance, I did a short presentation to the audience on what Generic Drugs are and their benefits (safe and cheap). The play has a theme of bad man in the community who sells drugs at exorbitant prices. The King and his Health Minister catch the man and explains to the villagers that cheap and safe drugs are available from the Dharwad Generic Drug House. It was a very effective way to get people educated about generic drugs.”
Initial funding for the Dharwad Generic Drug House came from the Deshpande Foundation. The Deshpande Foundation founders, Gururaj and Jaishree Deshpande, have encouraged entrepreneurship and innovation as catalysts for sustainable change in the United States, India and Canada since 1996. Dr Dabade expects Dharwad Generic Drug House to be self-sufficient in 3 to 4 years.