Novartis India has launched "Arogya Parivar", a programme, to address the health needs of rural areas, which would give it new business areas. The target is to cover half of India’s rural population, which is estimated to be around 35 crore, in two years.

"By 2010, we would like to cover 50 million patients in the rural areas of the country through Arogya Parivar," Novartis India Vice Chairman and MD Ranjit Shahani said.

The company has launched Arogya Parivar in Western Maharashtra, South Gujarat, western and central Madhya Pradesh and South Uttar Pradesh. Currently, Arogya Parivar operates 26 cells throught these fourststesand expects to have close 200 cells by year end It would take this programme to other parts of the country, too, he said.

Arogya Parivar has been structured into an independent cell, each covering a radius of 35 km. Each cell is managed by a supervisor a few health educators. They would raise awareness among the populace of diseases, prevention and treatment, refer patients to doctors, brief physicians and make Novartis product available in pharmacies.

This programme would give newer markets to the company's 24 generic products and over the counter drugs for treatment of injuries, tuberculosis, mother and child malnutrition, respiratory, cardiovascular, mental illness, diarrhea, vaccine able diseases, cancer, HIV/AIDS and gastro-intestinal problems said Oliver Jarry senior Vice-President, Strategy, Business Development & Licensing Novartis who heads the Arogya Parivar project.

The project is organized around a central marketing and planning team responsible for creating materials for public awareness such as leaflets, posters, training manuals, short films in various local languages. Medicines will be offered in simple-to-use packaging and at affordable costs to villagers.

“This is a social business not CSR activity. We have an emerging social category which needs healthcare,” said Mr Shahani. He said that there would be no difference in pricing of medicines in rural and urban areas. “Price points will remain the same. The idea is to give it in smaller packets,” he said.

Explaining the need for taking an initiative for the rural areas, Shahani said 65 per cent of the people have no access to medicines in India. India is worse off than Africa when it comes to accessing medicines, he said. About 47 per cent Africans are not able to access medicines, he said, quoting figures from WHO data. In China 15 per cent of the people do not have access to medicines.  In India, rural areas represent 58 per cent of the national disposable income, with villagers having an average spending capacity of over $2 a day, he said.