Experts flag concerns over grim health scene


Leading health planners, doctors, academics, policy makers, and activists from India and abroad have put together a range of issues that needed to be urgently looked into to address the grim health scenario facing the country.  The suggestion emerging from the  three-day of brainstorming in Goa under the aegis of Difficult Dialogues, will be submitted to the Government.

The second edition in the Difficult Dialogues series, an annual conference  that tackles vital issues facing South Asia,  focused on the question: ‘Is India’s Health a Grand Challenge?’ This year, the forum was held in partnership with UCL (University College London), a world-leading university that combines its research excellence across all disciplines to tackle the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century.

Among the highlights was a engrossing presentation made by Dr Vikram Patel, who is founder of Goa-based NGO Sangath and listed as one of TIME Magazine’s world’s top 100 most influential people in 2015. He discussed his path-breaking work in mental health. 

On this subject, other speakers, including senior bureaucrat Anshu Prakash, who has served in the Health Ministry at the Centre for more than a decade, referred to the upcoming mental health policy and the need for greater sensitivity from the society towards the people who are facing mental illness. He also pointed out that in several cases family abandons patients  in mental insitutions even after they have recovered.

Through engaging panel discussions, the speakers grappled with crucial issues of public health budgets, cancer, disease, mental health, and health technology. Leading UK lecturer and researcher on health from King’s College London Sridhar Venkatapuram also shared his views at the Difficult Dialogues summit.

India spends less than oneand-a-half per cent of its GDP on public health. This is a fraction of the amount that other developing countries allocate in their budgets. Therefore, a top priority of Difficult Dialogues 2017 was  to firmly position Health on the political agenda of the Indian Government.

The main recommendations emerging from  the panel discussions would be presented to the Government, said Surina Narula, the founder of Difficult Dialogues. She also has been the president of the London-based Consortium for Street Children (CSC) which provides voluntary consultancy to NGOs internationally and a member of the board of directors of PLAN International UK, a patron of PLAN INDIA and honorary patron of PLAN USA.

Former Health Secretary Sujatha Rao and Health secretary of Punjab Vini Mahajan also addressed serious challenges facing the country.

The conference devoted session on treatment and prevention of cancer. Cancer survivor and actress Manisha Koirala shared her fight with cancer and underlined the importance of developing a healthy immune system through a regulated life style and how to keep at bay the deadly disease.

Dr Jayant Vaidya, professor of a surgery and oncology at the University College London (UCL), pointed out that hospitals in India were preventing introduction of cheaper radiology treatment technology  that can treat breast cancer patients with a single dose of radiation during operation in place of standard six-dose radiation regimen.

Dr Vaidya said the new radiation technology has been adopted by 35 countries and available at 300 centres. “Twenty thousand women have successfully undergone this treatments, but there is strong resistance to this technology from hospital lobby in India,” he said.

Acclaimed actor Kabir Bedi chaired a session on the topic of “Health of the Nation”. Former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, Janata Dal (U) leader Pavan Kumar Varma, Congress’ Sachin Pilot and BJP’s Shazia Ilmi were on the panel that talked about the recent deterioration in political discourse and demonetisation as well the continuing  growth story of India.

Commenting at the conclusion of the three day summit, Surina Narula said, “I am delighted at the range and quality of the discussions we had on several key healthcare issues that India faces. The panelists brainstormed on diverse health related areas like organ donation, role of gender, better births, curbing the spread of disease, aspects of mental health, equality in healthcare, and the issues plaguing India’s doctors etc. The challenges are immense and we had the courage to identify the problem areas and more importantly come up with specific policy recommendations. As a result of the Difficult Dialogues 2017 summit we will be crystallizing our recommendations as Demands on Health and present it to the Indian government.”




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