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Over 200 cancer drugs, 186 medicines to treat cardiovascular diseases and 148 stents and cardiac implants will now be available at central government hospitals at prices 50-60% lower than the open market.

The health ministry has launched a programme called AMRIT (Affordable Medicines and Reliable Implants for Treatment), under which the government will run pharmacy retail stores to sell medicines in hospitals like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Safdarjung Hospital and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.

TOI was the first to report on September 19 that the health ministry was working on a project to make cancer medicines and stents available at a substantially lower price by procuring such drugs in bulk at a negotiated price and supplying them to hospitals and consumers through its own retail system.

The idea is to make treatment of critical diseases more affordable by bringing down the cost of medicine, which constitute a major part of the total health expenditure, mainly in case of tertiary care.

"This is certainly an innovative initiative. Patients can buy medicines and implants at rates 50-60% cheaper than open market from AMRIT outlet in AIIMS," health minister J P Nadda said while inaugurating the first store. "The government is pinning a lot of hope on it. We are exploring the possibility of scaling up the facility and also making it accessible to larger number of people in various parts of the country," he added.

Since the incidence of cancer and heart diseases is high and rapidly increasing in India, the government has chosen these two therapeutic categories for initial focus of the pragramme, an official said. In India, deaths from cancer have increased by 60% since 1990, according to the latest report 'Global Burden of Cancer-2013', released worldwide on Friday. In 2013, there were 14.9 million new cancer cases registered worldwide, whereas 8.2 million people died due to the disease. Cardiovascular diseases are also found to be the leading cause of death globally.

The government has already started the project in AIIMS on a pilot basis. The model is expected to be replicated in other central government hospitals within two to three months. The government will also expand the programme in regional cancer centres.

The project has been floated in partnership with the government-owned HLL Lifecare Ltd. The company will set up AMRIT stores and also run them across the country. Prices will be negotiated with the companies by the government for bulk procurement.

Currently, prices of only 51 cancer medicines are capped or regulated by the government. However, several oncologists, public health experts and even institutes like Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital have advocated bringing in more cancer drugs under price control as these medicines are extremely expensive and often out of reach of majority of patients.

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