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‘Chikungunya isn’t our export to Europe’

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss speaks to Sanchita Sharma about why he’s been keeping a low profile of late, progress on the malaria vaccine and the AIDS prevention programme.

health and fitness Updated: Oct 01, 2007 03:40 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times

Whether it’s the anti-smoking campaign or the AIIMS controversy, it’s difficult to keep Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss out of the news. The controversial minister speaks to Sanchita Sharma about why he’s been keeping a low profile of late, progress on the malaria vaccine and the AIDS prevention programme.

Why have you suddenly become media-shy?

I’m tired of being asked about AIIMS. People are dying of dengue and tuberculosis, but all the media is interested in is AIIMS. Like PGI, Chandigarh, and now JIPMER in Puducherry, AIIMS is an autonomous medical institute. As long as the patients are cared for and go away happy, I have nothing to complain about.

An Indian tourist has infected Italy with chikungunya. Why can’t the National Vector Borne Disease Control programme (NVBDCP) get its act together?

Indians cannot be blamed for infecting Europe with chikungunya. After all, someone must have got the infection to India from Africa, where it was first diagnosed in Tanzania.

The NVBDCP is one of the two national programmes I’m not happy with, the other being the mental health progamme. We need to revamp the NVBDCP.

Dengue, newer diseases such as chikungunya are a growing concern, but once, we have a more efficient mosquito-control plan in place — hopefully in a year or two — we should see results.

How are we progressing on developing a vaccine against malaria?

It will get a big boost with the inauguration of the 400-acre Medical Technology Park in Chennai, which will be inaugurated in six months. The Centre has tied up with Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) for the initiative. Vaccines for polio, BDG, DPT, measles and hepatitis will be produced, and the park will have research and development capability for other vaccines such as bird flu and malaria.

Are there plans to export vaccines and equipment?

Definitely, but priority will be given to vaccines and medical devices, equipment and diagnostic kits needed in India. An imported MRI machine costs Rs 9 crore, but the same when made in India costs Rs 2 crore. Currently, 90 per cent medical devices are imported. We hope to reverse this in five years.

HIV/AIDS estimates have halved this year, but the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) Phase III budget stays at Rs 11,585 crore. Why?

Actually, our budget for NACP-III is 8,023 crore. The remaining Rs 3,562 crore came from international fundings.

But some of the funding, like from the World Bank, is a loan that has to be paid back…

We decided not to cut the budget because 75 per cent of this money will be spent on prevention. If spending money now can protect over 99.5 per cent of the Indian population from HIV, it’s worth it.

First Published: Oct 01, 2007 03:31 IST

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