Images of India : India’s ‘medicine man’ brings pills to the poor…

medicinebabaLike a modern-day town crier, “Medicine Baba” Omkarnath Sharma, the 79-year-old calls to residents to bring out their left-over medicines, rather than throw them away, to donate to New Delhi’s millions of desperate poor. Sharma is hopeful his unorthodox service is making a difference, albeit small, in a country where 65 percent of the population lacks regular access to essential medicines, according to the World Health Organisation. In his trademark bright orange smock, Sharma cuts a familiar figure in Delhi’s leafy neighbourhoods, and residents routinely carry out handfuls of medicines for him. Medical treatment is free in Indian government-funded hospitals, but drug supplies at their dispensaries run out, forcing patients to fork out for medicines at nearby chemists. India spends just 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health, lower than war-torn Afghanistan on 1.7 percent. India’s generic drugs industry is a major supplier to the world of cheap, life-saving treatments for diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other diseases. But experts say even these are out of reach of many of the 363 million Indians living below the poverty line, who make up about 30 percent of the country’s population. “When I first started, I was ridiculed and called a beggar but now people respect what I am doing”.