An end to epidemics?

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Ayushman Bharat is a bold move forward showing incredible political will. The success of it will also depend on how civil society ensures its speedy execution

For a country often in the throes of political controversies, solemn occasions like World Health Day observed on April 7 may not grab much attention of people. However, such occasions definitely help to reiterate the political and administrative commitments and also bring to fore the significance of the society at large to be aware of the priorities and support Government initiatives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) which celebrated its 70th anniversary declared that this year’s Health Day was dedicated to one of its founding principles — “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated this value when he tweeted on April 7, “Good health is the foundation of human progress. This World Health Day, I wish all of you remain in the best health and continue to scale new heights of growth”. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general said: “Good health is the most precious thing anyone can have. When people are healthy, they can learn, work, and support themselves and their families. When they are sick, nothing else matters. Families and communities fall behind. That’s why WHO is so committed to ensuring good health for all.” A WHO release said that with 194 Member States, across six regions, and working from more than 150 offices, WHO staff are united in a shared drive to achieve better health for everyone, everywhere — and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring “healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. The tagline for this year’s World Health Day is “Universal Health Coverage: Everyone, everywhere”.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “I welcome the theme ‘Universal health coverage: everyone, everywhere’ that has been chosen by WHO and others. It is the quest for Health For All that inspired us to create Ayushman Bharat, the largest health care programme in the world.” This is in keeping with India’s commitment and the recognition that good health is the foundation of all human progress.

The Ayushman Bharat programme is aimed at making path breaking interventions to address health holistically, in primary, secondary and tertiary care systems, covering both prevention and health promotion. It contains two key features: First is Health and Wellness Centre. According to a Government release, The National Health Policy, 2017 has envisioned Health and Wellness Centres as the foundation of India’s health system. Under this, 1.5 lakh centres will bring healthcare system closer to the homes of people. These centres will provide comprehensive healthcare, including for non-communicable diseases and maternal and child health services. These centres will also provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services. The Budget has allocated Rs 1200 crore for this flagship programme. Contribution of private sector through CSR and philanthropic institutions in adopting these centres is also envisaged.

The second flagship programme under Ayushman Bharat is National Health Protection Scheme, which will cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries) providing coverage upto five lakh rupees per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation. In keeping with the goals of WHO, the Finance Minister had said while declaring this programme in the Budget that “these two health sector initiatives under Ayushman Bharat Programme will build a New India 2022 and ensure enhanced productivity, well-being and avert wage loss and impoverishment”. This need of enhanced access, in fact, has been a crying need of the time, and Dr Ghebreyesus too had emphasized the same last month when he said, “Universal health coverage means that all people should be able to access the health services and medicines and other health commodities they need which are of good quality without experiencing financial hardship — form of discrimination.” He added, “We are far from achieving this target — at least half the world’s population lacks access to the most basic health services, and almost 100 million people are plunged into extreme poverty every year because they have to pay for their healthcare out of their own pockets.”

The WHO director-general reiterated that the 2030 target of “ending the epidemics” of HIV, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted infections will not be achieved without striving for universal health coverage, and universal health coverage cannot be achieved without addressing these communicable diseases. “Both communicable diseases and universal health coverage targets will not be achieved without a clear focus on health as a human right,” he asserted. India is as old as WHO and has historically shared the same vision.

While we have made substantial gains in healthcare, there are many areas of concern which Modi has been trying to address. Ayushman Bharat is one bold move forward showing incredible political will. However, the success of this and other programmes will also depend on how the civil society and bureaucracy ensure its speedy execution.

(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

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