Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said on Thursday that the country’s massive Covid-19 vaccination drive, which has delivered over 200 crore doses so far, tells an “incredible story” of in-house research and production.
Speaking at the Express Adda, Mandaviya said: “This was an incredible story of Atmanirbhar Bharat because the research happened in India, manufacturing happened in India, and the administration happened… using all indigenous things, we have reached the target of 200 crore. We have already administered the first dose to 98 per cent of people over the age of 18 years and second dose to 91 per cent. And, now the precaution dose is happening. Not only did we protect our country, we supported other countries as well. The vaccine might be (available) for $20-25 in other countries, we provided it at $3-4.”
Asked why the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines were not available in India, the Minister said the Government allowed everyone to come and get their products registered as per laws. But, he said, when it came to discussions on indemnity and sovereign guarantee, it was clear that the rules applicable would be the same for all vaccine manufacturers.
The Health Minister also spoke about the threat of non-communicable diseases, how the Government’s digital health mission will create easily accessible records while guaranteeing privacy, and how the administration will support research and development in the pharmaceutical industry.
Referring to the Centre’s work in medical education, Mandaviya said that while MBBS seats have increased from 48,000 to 97,000, the Government is looking to start colleges with “good private hospitals” having over 300 beds.
On the threat of non-communicable diseases, he said: “Screening is very important. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi ji decided to start 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres across the country. Of them, over 1.2 lakh have already been made. We will ensure that tests for these diseases can happen there itself.”
He also said that digital technology can be used by doctors from these health and wellness centres to get specialist consultation near the patients’ home.
Pointing to mental health as a big challenge, especially after the pandemic, the Minister said that mental health services may be connected on e-Sanjeevani — the Government’s telemedicine service — to be accessed by people from their homes without facing any stigma.
Mandaviya said while the acclaimed Obamacare policy in the US covered 10 crore people, the Ayushman Bharat insurance cover caters to 50 crore people and has made healthcare accessible to those who might previously have refused surgeries because they could not afford it. He said that over 3 crore surgeries were performed with support from the insurance scheme last year.
Mandaviya also spoke about the Government’s next big project, Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), under which accounts will be created for citizens to store their health records online while ensuring privacy. He said the Government has already recognised how digital technology helped during Covid when direct benefits were transferred even to daily wage labourers or those running roadside shops.
Just like Jan Dhan accounts, “one important part of ABDM is the Ayushman Bharat health account”, Mandaviya said.
“At present, we carry around our health data in files. We can create a digital platform that connects all health agencies where your digital records will be maintained. But there will be privacy. How? If I get a test at a lab, which becomes a part of the mission, the test result is still with the lab…but I can use the platform to access it. When a doctor asks for my history, I can just give them my account number and share an OTP so they can access the record,” he said.
“We have to change the mindset that it can happen only elsewhere in the world and not India. India can do it, India will do it,” he said.
Mandaviya, who also heads the Chemicals and Fertilizers Ministry of which the Pharmaceutical department is a part, said that although India provides one in six generic pills used globally, there was a need to promote research and development to create proprietary products. “One muscular dystrophy medicine now costs Rs 16 crore, we will not get that much even if we ship two containers of generics,” the Minister said.
He added that the government is developing schemes to support R&D in the sector, especially to aid medium and small industries.
The Minister also spoke about the challenges faced by India when it comes to procuring fertilizers, with the prices shooting up after the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. He said the country is looking at a subsidy burden of Rs 2.5 lakh crore this year.
Looking ahead, Mandaviya said the Government was planning a meeting with all state health ministers called “Chintan Shivir” for a healthcare framework across 25 years — to mark the 100th year of Independence.
Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya was in conversation with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express, and Kaunain Sheriff M, Special Correspondent, The Indian Express.
The Express Adda is a series of informal interactions organised by The Indian Express Group and features those at the centre of change.
Union Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari, election strategist Prashant Kishor and Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs and Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri were among previous guests at the Adda.