PMi Narendra Modi’s vision is that the best health care should be accessible to the poorest of the poor as a matter of a right(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
PMi Narendra Modi’s vision is that the best health care should be accessible to the poorest of the poor as a matter of a right(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

The battle for a disease-free India

A year since Ayushman Bharat was launched, the health landscape is witnessing a transformation
By Harsh Vardhan
PUBLISHED ON SEP 23, 2019 06:09 AM IST

Our people are our greatest strength. India cannot realise its demographic dividend without its citizens being healthy. This government believes in realising the full potential of our people, and, so, has made health a national priority.

Despite its economic strength and growing global stature, India continues to face multiple challenges in health. An estimated six crore Indians get pushed below the poverty line each year because of catastrophic expenditure on health care. The triple burden of disease is an enormous challenge. The first is high maternal mortality rate, infant mortality rate, and prevalence of communicable diseases; the second is the high and rising incidence of non-communicable diseases such as cancers, diabetes and hypertension; and third is the burden of infectious diseases such as dengue, malaria, tuberculosis, nipah, hepatitis, and acute encephalitis syndrome.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision is that the best health care should be accessible to the poorest of the poor as a matter of a right. The health care landscape in India is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Exactly one year ago, the Government of India launched the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), and rolled out this game-changer initiative for 55 crore poor and vulnerable citizens. The Ayushman Bharat health protection mission is a path-breaking approach for attaining the ultimate goal of universal health care. It has two core components — 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres (HWCs), to ensure comprehensive primary health care, and, PM-JAY, which is the health assurance scheme to deliver secondary and tertiary care for serious illnesses through a health cover of ~5 lakh per family per year. The initiative is a clarion call towards fulfilling Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay’s vision of reaching the last man in the queue.

Ayushman Bharat is a transformative initiative that seeks to meet the National Health Policy 2017 goal of “attainment of the highest possible level of health and well-being for all and at all ages, through a preventive and promotive health care orientation in all developmental policies, and universal access to good quality health care services without anyone having to face financial hardship as a consequence”. Ayushman Bharat, especially PM-JAY, aims to ensure improved access, affordability, and lower the cost of health care delivery through a combination of government hospitals and empanelled private providers. It recognises the critical importance of universal health coverage that is central to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) of ensuring good health and well-being for all.

The PM-JAY has had a tremendous start. The scheme is now being implemented across 32 states and Union Territories, which is a demonstration of our commitment to the highest ideals of cooperative federalism, a proof of the historic mandate given to this government and the faith reposed in us by the people on May 23 when Narendra Modi embarked upon his second innings as prime minister.

In the past year, since its launch, about 50 lakh free treatments, worth over ~7,500 crore, have been given at empanelled facilities across the country. 55% of the total utilised amount has been for tertiary procedures related to orthopaedics, cardiology, and radiation oncology.

It is indeed heartening that of the over 18,000 empanelled hospitals, 53% are private hospitals, and they are willingly putting their best foot forward to be a part of Ayushman Bharat.

One outstanding feature of this scheme is portability, which means that an eligible patient from any state implementing PM-JAY can avail free treatment anywhere in India, in any empanelled hospital. Around 40,000 beneficiaries have received such treatment outside their states/UTs.

To ensure more effective implementation and uptake of PM-JAY, and strengthen patient safety through quality care, we have instituted a robust fraud control structure, flowing from the Centre to the states and districts, and analytics and audit-based mechanisms to prevent, detect, and deter medical malpractices and wrong- doing by any of the stakeholders.

To improve the health sector, we need to transform the medical profession and expand it to get more people to take up careers as doctors, paramedics and frontline health workers. The National Medical Commission Bill is a milestone in the medical education sector. It will reduce the burden on students, ensure probity, accountability, transparency and quality in medical education.

Seventy five new medical colleges are being set up and 82 more are in various phases of development, which will help increase the number of medical seats and strengthen the country’s medical education infrastructure. It will also bring down the cost of medical education, ensure quality education and provide wider access to people for quality health care.

I am working to fast-track all initiatives in the health sector. Being a doctor by profession has given me first-hand knowledge of health care, which makes my task easier. On the first anniversary of Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY, I urge every Indian to support this health care movement. To be able to achieve a disease-free India, and to be able to attain global standards of health care for every Indian, is now the goal of my life.

Harsh Vardhan is the Union minister for health and family welfare; science & technology; and earth sciences.

The views expressed are personal.

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