India Supports Universal Health Coverage at 65th World Health Assembly, Geneva
“Every citizen is entitled to essential health care services and these should be guaranteed by the State. Considering the regional and socio cultural diversities, and the differential health care needs of people in different locations, any system of Universal Health Coverage for a large country like India requires a flexible and adaptable framework and substantial devolution of powers. The challenges of rapid urbanisation and of demographic, epidemiological and nutritional transitions also need to be taken into account” said Shri P. K. Pradhan, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India at the Plenary Session on the opening of 65th World Health Assembly at Geneva, Switzerland. He was speaking on behalf Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Sh. Ghulam Nabi Azad. Pradhan further pointed out that achieving and sustaining Universal Health Coverage without effectively addressing the social determinants of health would be difficult. Concrete actions are needed in the areas of primary education, provision of drinking water and sanitation, improved nutrition and other related areas, strong public distribution systems and strengthened communication system to reduce differentials in health and health status among various class, caste, gender and regional groups, he stated. Highlighting the steps taken by India to meet health related Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Pradhan said a new initiative, Safety for Mother and Children (Janani Shishu Suraksha karyakram) was launched last year, which entitles all pregnant women delivering in public health institutions to absolutely free and no expense delivery by providing them free drugs, consumables, diagnostics, blood and diet, besides free transport from home to institution, between facilities in case of referral and drop back home. Similar entitlements were put in place for all sick newborns accessing public health institutions for treatment till 30 days after birth. In fact, Health has been identified as the key thrust area in India’s 12th Five Year Plan Shri Pradhan informed. As WHA would also be deliberating on voluntary targets for reduction of NCDs, India’s efforts to combat NCDs were also highlighted in statement made by Secretary. Shri Pradhan said the opportunistic screening programme - National Programme for Prevention and Control of Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke - currently underway is historic in the sense that nothing of this magnitude has been attempted anywhere in the world till now. Shri Pradhan also said that India would have liked to have reduction in alcohol consumption also as one of the voluntary targets. “Even there is a need to think of a binding protocol, similar to the FCTC to contain abusive consumption of alcohol, and of reducing underage drinking and drunken driving” he added. In fact enthused by the report of the Consultative Expert Working Group which has made recommendations on the need for a binding agreement for financing and co-ordination to meet the health technology needs of the developing countries, India hopes that the recommendations of the CEWG would be accepted and steps initiated to implement its recommendations. The World Health Assembly provides an opportunity not only to share with the world community progress vis-a-vis the world public health agenda by Member States but also gives a platform to reiterate and reaffirm commitments by Member states to those goals. India has been on the Executive Board of the WHA since 2009.