In an unusual request, officials at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh have written to the ministries of health, defence and civil aviation asking for chartered flights to be operated twice on November 5 to ferry delegates attending an international conference on the campus. With the institute hosting the First World NCD (Non-Communicable Diseases) Congress from November 4-6, the request comes against the backdrop of the Chandigarh airport being closed every Sunday for a runway overhaul since October 3 — November 5 is a Sunday.
Confirming the request, Dr J S Thakur, organising chairperson of the conference, said, “This is the first of its kind NCD Congress, organised by the World NCD Federation & PGIMER Chandigarh. We are expecting 1,200-1,500 delegates from some 100 countries around the world. The main events are on November 4-6 but the problem is Chandigarh airport is closed on Sundays. It will cause needless problems for international delegates who may want to fly in or out without staying for the entire duration. We will need to arrange cabs or trains for them, which is a very complex task. So we have written to the ministries of health, civil aviation and defence asking for two flights to be operated on November 5 one in the morning and one in the evening.”
Thakur is a professor at PGIMER’s School of Public Health.
According to official sources, the Health Ministry is learnt to have “moved a file on the issue that will require the consideration of the secretary”. With new Health Secretary Preeti Sudan having recently taken charge, the decision may take a while, said sources. “There is no precedent of operating special flights for conferences. We are not sure if such a request can be made by this ministry to another,” said sources.
Among the international experts who have confirmed their participation in the conference are Dr Salim Yusuf, professor of cardiology at the McMaster University, Canada; Dr Rajeev Saran of the University of Michigan and director of the US Renal Data System; Prof Bryan Olderberg of the University of Melbourne; and, Dr Cherian Varghese, the NCD coordinator at WHO.
Apart from the Health Ministry, the conference partners include Maastricht University; National Cancer Institute; York University and the Indian Council of Medical Research. Union Health Minister J P Nadda, MoS Anupriya Patel, Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore and Haryana Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki have confirmed their participation for various sessions.
India’s NCD burden has long been a matter of global concern. According to the global status report of 2014, NCDs contribute to around 5.87 million deaths, or 60 per cent of all deaths in India. Four types — cardiovascular, cancer, chronic respiratory and diabetes — make the largest contribution to morbidity and mortality due to NCDs in the country.