Improving Health Care is our top priority : JP Nadda

Interview with Shree J.P Nadda, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Government of India

Q : How you see this year General Budget? Are you happy with the budget allocation for Health Sector?

  1. The health sector has been given “top” priority and there has been a “sizable” increase of 21% in this year’s budget allocation. Last year, budget allocation was Rs 25,946 crore while this year, Rs 31,300 crore has been allocated, Providing Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and reaching out to the poor and vulnerable which is this NDA government’s commitment, I think this budget will be helpful in taking that forward. Under National Health Mission (NHM), there has been an increase of Rs 705 crore while the medical education sector has also witnessed an increase in its budget by Rs 1,263 crore. This is in addition to the total budgetary allocation of Rs 5,429 crore to this sector. There has also been an additional allocation of Rs 244 crore for the new AIIMS which are coming up while for the tertiary schemes which includes cancer and other diseases, Rs 725 crore has been provided. In the human resource sector, budgetary allocation of Rs 600 crore has been given.

Q: Improving healthcare delivery has been on top of your government’s agenda. What health schemes, programmes and projects are being devised to improve this?

A: Improving healthcare delivery has been one of the key priorities of our government. Public health being a state subject, we are working with states and supplementing their efforts to improve healthcare in the spirit of cooperative federalism. Our endeavour has been to consolidate work and devise specific initiatives to address critical gaps like improving quality and, specifically, swachhta in public health facilities. We launched National Quality Assurance Framework and Kayakalp. To reduce high out of pocket expenditure, we are giving a big push to free drugs and diagnostics in public health facilities. For reducing preventable mortality and morbidity, we have approved addition of four new vaccines under the Universal Immunisation Programme. We are also working to use information and communication technologies in healthcare in a big way, which we believe can have a transformational effect in the way healthcare delivery is provided. By August, we will be sending 78 weekly audio health messages to pregnant women and new parents appropriate to the stage of pregnancy and age of infant. We will also use mobile phones to train ASHA workers and ANMs. To improve access to affordable super-specialty care and to provide high quality specialist workforce and give thrust to research and knowledge creation, we have sanctioned several more AIIMS.

Q: India’s low healthcare spend has not been received well by the international community. Is it possible to make basic healthcare accessible to all with the given resources?

A: I admit that there is certainly a need to improve our healthcare spend and the Union and states will have to together provide more resources to provide accessible and affordable healthcare of good quality. Yet, states’ absorptive capacities also need to improve and these will not improve overnight but incrementally. For improved health and developmental outcomes at low cost, we are working to make primary healthcare more robust, comprehensive and accountable. This will encompass preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative health care.

Q: What is the status of health ministry’s ambitious National Health Assurance Mission which promised essential medicines, diagnostic services etc. When are you planning to launch it?

A: The National Health Assurance Mission is really a process, focused essentially on free drugs, free diagnostics, preventive and promotive healthcare, primary healthcare, secondary healthcare and a selected set of tertiary care. Most of these continue to be areas of emphasis through the National Health Mission. Movement in the direction continues.

Q: You have personally taken interest to make the immunisation drive successful. What are the plans and have you fixed any timeline?

A: We would like to ensure that no child dies of a vaccine preventable disease. In the process, we have to have a plan to reach every child. No child should be left out. Mission Indradhanush is a programme as well as passion for me. We need to take the coverage to 90%. We are also introducing new vaccines. We have to take this movement forward so that we are on target by 2020. This means very active participation by states. I am regularly in touch with state governments. The first two rounds of Mission Indradhanush have shown good results. We need to do better.

Q: Is there a possibility of launching schemes, which were part of NHAM, separately?

A: Yes, we are already supporting and encouraging states to implement initiatives for free drugs and free diagnostics, comprehensive primary healthcare and strengthening district hospitals. The RSBY scheme has been transferred to my ministry from the ministry of labour. We are redesigning certain aspects of the scheme, like we intend to encompass certain elements of primary care such as screening for hypertension and diabetes and also provide for their free treatment.

Q: How will India meet the new sustainable development goals on maternal and infant mortality rate, to be soon adopted by the United Nations?

A: No doubt, India’s MMR, under-five mortality rate and IMR are high. However, we have to be mindful of the baseline at which we began, and the constraints of capacity and low human resources in our diverse states. Despite these, we have shown accelerated decline on these parameters. With improved capacities, resources and programmes based on evidence, we are very hopeful that we will meet the proposed new sustainable development goals.

Q: Civil society has raised concerns on the delay in implementation of larger pictorial warnings on tobacco packs.

A: The ministry is committed to the tobacco control programme as well as the pictorial warning issue. I have said this on the floor of the House as well. We are awaiting the report of the Parliament committee.

Q: Your government has completed two years. How would you rate it and what is the vision?

A: As far as health is concerned, we are steadily moving towards accessible and affordable healthcare for all. We have taken key initiatives and the world’s largest public health programme is being undertaken. We have also gone forward on the newborn action plan. We are steadily progressing in all areas including elimination of Japanese Encephalitis, tuberculosis etc. The aim is to work in cooperation with states and make healthcare accessible to all.

Vinod Kumar

Health Journalist & writer. Editor of monthly health magazine "Health Spectrum."

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