As the BJP and the NDA government publicise achievements of the last three years, Health Minister J P Nadda speaks about action against tobacco NGOs, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and more. He declines, however, to talk about the three Zika cases in Ahmedabad and why the government kept these under wraps for five months before the World Health Organisation outed it. Excerpts from an interview.
The tobacco lobby recently claimed victory following a government crackdown against anti-tobacco NGOs; your ministry is observing No Tobacco Day Wednesday. Are two arms of the government working at cross purposes?
Public health is our priority and government is fully committed to it. Every decision has been taken as per the law. There is no crackdown.
The Public Health Foundation of India is a partner in many schemes, some of them with foreign funds. What happens to these schemes now?
PHFI is continuing its support to immunisation programme till May 2017.
Is the government rethinking its collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?
The government continues to collaborate with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the areas of immunisation, family planning, visceral leishmaniasis [kala azar] etc.
What is delaying the cabinet’s nod for the National Health Protection Scheme?
The health ministry is currently implementing Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, which is one of the largest government-funded health insurance schemes in the world. Approximately 3.6 crore families were enrolled during 2016-2017 and since its inception more than 1.3 crore hospitalisations have been supported through RSBY. A national workshop of RSBY was organised with states/UTs on May 5 in Delhi. National Health Protection Scheme is under active consideration of the Government of India. The Prime Minister and the finance minister have already announced that proposed NHPS will provide treatment coverage up to Rs 1 lakh to poor and deprived families. Since it aims to bring convergence with these various state-funded health insurance schemes, detailed discussions are being done with the state governments and other stakeholders. Considerable work has been already done on design of the policy, IT framework and implementation process in consultation with various stakeholders. NHPS cannot be seen in isolation and it has to fit within the framework of the recently approved National Health Policy and therefore, in the design of proposed NHPS, we will have to ensure linkages with other parts of the healthcare delivery and financing system. Learning from global experiences, we intend to move towards an integrated healthcare system where preventive, primary, secondary and tertiary care systems will work together seamlessly and provide continuum of care.
When does the government plan to introduce the HPV vaccine in the national programme?
No decision has been taken for introduction of HPV. At present, it is being debated at the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
The Clinical Establishments Act has not taken off because of states’ reluctance to come on board. What do you think needs to be done to regulate the private sector, control prices like West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee recently did?
Health is a state subject… The central government has been making efforts to persuade all states to adopt the Act to ensure proper regulation of the Act is possible across states and the Indian population could benefit.
The Mental Health Act has been hailed as progressive legislation. Yet there is a shortage of mental health professionals. How do you plan to resolve it?
It’s not just with psychiatry, it is with other disciplines also, we are going in a big way. This year itself. More than 5,000 postgraduate seats have been enhanced and we are going very fast on it. We are trying to see to deregulation in the sense that we want to relax norms so the number of students increases and PG students increase so we are able to cater to it. There is a backlog, all this should have been done some 10, 15 years ago.
What has been the biggest achievement of the last three years for you? What has been the biggest regret?
To me there have been three major achievements. Firstly, health system strengthening including new programmes under National Health Mission, i.e. Pradhan Mantra Dialysis Programme, AMRIT outlets, PMSMA etc, Then the immunisation programme (existing routine immunisation vaccines and new MR, rota, PCV vaccine launches) towards reduction in mortality as well as morbidity as part of overall strategy of healthy India. And lastly, most important of all, the increase in budget allocation to our Ministry of Health by 27.7% in Union Budget 2017-18 — the strongest sign of committed political will towards the nation’s health.