Union Health Minister JP Nadda on Sunday inaugurated India's first pharmacy retail store at the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) that will provide drugs for cancer and cardiovascular diseases at 60-90 per cent discount on market rates.

The pharmacy AMRIT â€" Affordable Medicines and Reliable Implants for Treatment â€" will sell 202 drugs to cure cancer and cardiovascular diseases with prices much lower than that in the open market. The government will also provide 148 cardiac implants that will be sold at 50-60 per cent discount at the pharmacy. 

"Under the AMRIT programme, we want to give medicines at an affordable cost. We have identified 202 drugs of cancer and cardio-vascular diseases where the price is going to reduced on an average by 60 to 90 percent. In the same way, 148 cardiac implants will be given from the centre and sold here and their cost will be reduced by 50 to 60 percent," IANS quoted Nadda as saying.

"Some of the prices of the AMRIT Pharmacy drugs are strikingly low such as Amrit will sell 'Docetaxel 120mg' used for chemotherapy cycle at Rs.888.75 (93 percent rebate) for one cycle, when the MRP of the injection is Rs.13,440. Similarly, Caboplatin 450 mg would be sold at Rs.1,316.25 while its MRP is Rs.2,561.57," AIIMS Director MC Misra said.

The pharmacy has been opened as a pilot project, but once it is successful, the government will open more pharmacy retail stores at other central hospitals, including Safdarjung Hospital and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, to sell drugs at hospitals at discounted rates.

"After 15 days we are going to review the programme, and in the coming times, we will try to replicate it in all central hospitals," he said.

"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, The Times of India reported.

The government-owned HLL Lifecare Ltd (HLL) will run the AMRIT pharmacy stores. Patients availing treatment at other hospitals can also buy the medicines at discounted rates based on authentic prescriptions.

"To begin with, HLL will dispense 195 oncology drugs, 186 cardiovascular drugs and 148 cardiac implants through AMRIT pharmacy. Initially, the pharmacy will retail cancer drugs. By this month-end, it will commence the dispensing of cardiovascular drugs and implants in line with the cancer drugs," The Indian Express quoted HLL chairman and managing director Dr M Ayyappan as saying.

The government's move proves significant as a total of 70,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year and 2.8 million people are suffering from the disease. 

"A significant number of patients (nearly over 50 percent) stop visiting hospitals after two or three cycles of chemotherapy due to unaffordable costs," Misra said.

"Some breast-cancer patients need targeted treatment drugs, which cost around Rs.75,000 for a course; a patient could need up to 17 courses. Similarly, a drug used to treat colon, kidney, lung and gall bladder cancer can add around Rs.8 lakh to a patient's bill which is around Rs.1 lakh a cycle," Misra added.