India’s National Health Policy is set to build a healthy and strong nation

JAGAT PRAKASH NADDA

Over the last 10 years, India has made noteworthy strides in health. We built an extensive, sophisticated system to deliver multiple doses of polio vaccine to every child in this vast country, eradicating the disease. Nationwide, our infant and maternal mortality rates have declined by more than one-third. We have learned to manufacture high quality drugs that are exported to the rest of the globe; an estimated 20 percent of the generic drugs supplied globally is produced in India.

While we have much to be proud of, we know that we can do much better. Health outcomes can improve further, and out of pocket expenses on health can reduce, to better protect citizens from financial risk.We can build on progress to reach the goal of an India in which every citizen lives a healthy and productive life. The National Health Policy, developed after extensive consultations with the State Governments and other stakeholders aims to shape our health system in all its dimensions- investment in health, organization and financing, prevention of diseases and promotion of good health; by access to technologies, developing human resources, encouraging medical pluralism, building knowledge for better health, financial protection and regulation. The policy is aimed at reaching healthcare in an assured manner to all, particularly to the underserved and underprivileged.

Fortunately, we have made significant advances which puts us in an excellent position to address the needs the health system isn’t meeting yet—starting with strengthening and delivering good quality maternal and child health care and ensuring availability of emergency care, and moving on eventually to create robust infrastructure and capabilities to deliver universal health coverage. We have clearly prioritized four investments, through which we can build the Indian health system of the future.

The first is our focus on prevention of diseases, promoting good health and assuring quality comprehensive primary care to all. The emphasis, therefore, is to move away from Sick- Care to Wellness., and s Seven areas for inter-sectoral action including peoples’ campaign under “Swasth Nagrik Abhiyan” has been introduced so that people stay healthy and rely less on hospital care. The need is also to shift from selective primary healthcare services to assured comprehensive primary healthcare with two way referrals which include care for major NCDs, mental health, geriatric care, palliative care and rehabilitative care. As a critical element, the Policy proposes to raise public health expenditure to 2.5% of the GDP in a time-bound manner with allocating major proportion (two-thirds or more) of resources to primary care.

The second critical focus of this Policy is strengthening and designing our health systems such that affordable health is made available to all, through free access to universal comprehensive primary health care, to free drugs, diagnostics and essential and emergency services in government hospitals, and strategic purchasing through government financed insurance programs. Prioritizing the health of mothers and children to facilitate access within the ‘golden hour’, the Policy aims to ensure availability of 2000 beds per one million populations across all is geographies distributed.

Empowering citizens and providing quality patient care is our third critical pillar. Hospitals will undergo periodic measurements and will be certified on level of quality. The policy recommends establishing mechanisms for speedy resolution of dispute, and of National Healthcare Standards Organization to develop evidence based standard guidelines and mechanisms for speedy resolution of dispute. Resource allocation to government hospitals will be made to ensure responsive to quantity, diversity and quality of caseloads.

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The fourth pillar of our health Policy is focused on leveraging the power of India’s innovation, technology and ICT capability. The policy advocates the need to incentivize local manufacturing to promote customized indigenous products such that health care is made more accessible and affordable for our citizens, while simultaneously generating employment. The Policy recommends establishing federated national health information architecture, consistent with Metadata and Data Standards (MDDS), introduces use of Electronic Health Records (EHR), use of digital tools for AYUSH services by AYUSH practitioners, for traditional community level healthcare providers and for household level preventive, promotive and curative practices.
Additionally, to address shortage of specialized care especially in some states, besides upgrading district hospitals to medical colleges, use of technology to scale initiatives such as tele-consultation which will link tertiary care institutions (medical colleges) to district and sub-district hospitals with secondary care facilities, will ensure that excellent medical care reaches at the remotest locations. To build capacity and knowledge at the last mile, the policy promotes utilization of National Knowledge Network for Tele-education, Tele-CME, Tele-consultations and access to digital library.

Holding ourselves to account to meet a clear set of measurable health sector goals relating to mortality and morbidity on life expectancy and a healthy life, on reducing mortality and disease prevention and incidence, the Government of India is committed to the health future of all its individuals.  By recognizing and prioritizing the role of the government in shaping and delivering equitable quality health to all, we have announced the National Health Policy 2017, and are committed to implementing it working in close cooperation with the state governments, in a time-bound manner with clear deliverables and milestones so that Indians stay healthy and reach their full potential.

(Writer is the Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare)