Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi on Monday to inaugurate what is being touted as “India’s largest scheme to scale-up health infrastructure”. The Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission is aimed at ensuring a robust public health infrastructure in both urban and rural areas, capable of responding to public health emergencies or disease outbreak.
Ahead of the mission’s launch, the Prime Minister inaugurated nine medical colleges from Siddharthnagar, in the presence of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Governor Anandiben Patel and Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya. He will also inaugurate other development projects worth Rs 5,200 crore for Varanasi in the poll-bound state.
In a bid to increase accessibility, the Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission, an addition to the National Health Mission, will provide support to 17,788 rural Health and Wellness Centres in 10 ‘high focus’ states and establish 11,024 urban Health and Wellness Centres across the country.
According to a press release by the Prime Minister’s Office, the mission’s objective is to “fill critical gaps in public health infrastructure, especially in critical care facilities and primary care in both the urban and rural areas.”
It will ensure access to critical care services in all districts of the country with over five lakh population through ‘Exclusive Critical Care Hospital Blocks’. The remaining districts will be covered through referral services, the PMO’s statement read. Integrated public health labs will also be set up in all districts, giving people access to “a full range of diagnostic services” through a network of laboratories across the country.
The Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission also aims to establish an IT-enabled disease surveillance system through a network of surveillance laboratories at block, district, regional and national levels.
All the public health labs will be connected through the Integrated Health Information Portal, which will be expanded to all states and UTs, the PMO said.
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the mission aims at ensuring a robust system for “detecting, investigating, preventing, and combating public health emergencies and disease outbreaks”. For this, 17 new public health units will be set up, while the 33 existing public health units will be strengthened. It will also train frontline and healthcare workers to respond to public health emergencies effectively.
Apart from this, the mission will set up other infrastructure, including a national institution for one health, four national institutes for virology, a regional research platform for WHO’s South East Asia region, nine biosafety level-III laboratories, and five regional centres for disease control.
India has long been in need of a ubiquitous healthcare system. A study (‘State of Democracy in South Asia (SDSA)–Round 3’) by Lokniti-CSDS in 2019 highlighted how access to public health care remained elusive to those living on the margins. The study found that 70 per cent of the locations have public healthcare services. However, availability was less in rural areas (65 per cent) compared to urban areas (87 per cent).
In 45 per cent of the surveyed locations, people could access healthcare services by walking, whereas in 43 per cent of the locations they needed to use transport. The survey also found that proximity to healthcare services is higher in urban localities: 64 per cent of the enumerators in urban areas observed that people can access healthcare services by walking, while only 37 per cent in rural areas can do so
The Prime Minister had recently launched another scheme, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), a flagship digital initiative involving the creation of not just a unique health ID for every citizen, but also a digital healthcare professionals and facilities registry.
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