India’s health is recovering. However, with a raging population that shows no signs of containment, there are dangers of a relapse.
As India is projected to become the youngest country in the world by 2030, the strengthening of public health institutions across the length and breadth of our society is imperative. The National Health Policy of India 2017 focuses on this very strengthening of the health system. As a critical element, the Policy proposes to raise public health expenditure to 2.5 per cent of the GDP in a time-bound manner with the allocation of a major proportion (two-thirds or more) of the resources to primary care.
The policy is a comprehensive approach towards addressing the infrastructural and human resources gap along with leveraging digital technology in modifying our country's health systems to make them more robust. The National Health Policy 2017 realises the need for better regulatory mechanisms, for primary healthcare to be comprehensive and universal, need for preventive and promotive focus, and most importantly, the importance of a patient-centric approach. The policy also recommends mainstreaming AYUSH with general health systems. The National Health Policy aims at achieving universal health coverage and delivering quality healthcare services at affordable costs.
Data and digitisation is the new oil that drives the institutions of the world today. For connecting healthcare to digital technology, the health ministry established the National Digital Health Authority (NDHA) of India to regulate, develop and deploy digital health across the continuum of care. The extensive deployment of digital tools for improving the efficiency and outcome of the healthcare system is on the way.
A key government intervention known as the Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram (JSSK) scheme encompasses free maternity services for women and children along with a nationwide scale-up of emergency referral systems and maternal death audits, as well as improvements in the governance and management of health services at all levels.
Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan (PMSMA) aims to provide comprehensive and quality antenatal care to pregnant women on the 9th of every month under the motto of "IPledgeFor9". The Maternity Benefit Act of 2017 passed by the Centre reflects the government's commitment in the fully paid absence from work to take care of the neonate. Not just women, the Health Ministry has also extensively generated discussions and actions around the role of men in family planning. Battling the two leading cause of death amongst children, Mission Indradhanush has successfully immunised 3.55 crore children against deadly diseases.
But, a lot has to be done before the nation can be called ideal in terms of health and healthcare facilities. Air pollution is one of the primary causes of premature deaths in India. Every third child in Delhi is plagued with impaired lungs. The Swachh Bharat drive would be ineffective without the possibility of clean air. We are facing the double-edged sword of obesity and malnutrition.
A better surveillance of hospitals and their facilities should be in place. There is a need to engage and regulate the private sector in providing affordable and quality healthcare. The number of poverty-stricken people in our country has increased from 32 million in 1999 to 94 million in 2004. Several important schemes such as the National Health Assurance Mission and National Health Protection Scheme have been on the drawing board for a very long time and they now demand urgent attention.
(Dr. PR Sodani is Pro-President, IIHMR University, Jaipur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)