The World Health Organisation is keen that India should have universal health coverage (UHC), newly elected director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said.
WHO’s definition of UHC — one of the goals of sustainable development — includes financial risk protection (against medical expenses), access to quality essential health care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
“We are very keen for India to have UHC,” Dr Ghebreyesus told The Indian Express on the sidelines of the first WHO Global Ministerial Conference, called Ending TB in The Sustainable Development Era: A Multisectoral Response.
Dr Ghebreyesus, who was elected the WHO director-general a couple of years back, said several times that UHC would be his area of focus. The new WHO regime’s commitment to work with India was also evident when the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, was chosen to be a deputy Director-general at WHO.
India has been toying with the idea of UHC since 2011 when a high-level expert committee, formed by the erstwhile Planning Commission, submitted its report but nothing much came of it.
The NDA too started off with promises of a health assurance scheme as articulated by its first health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan when he took over in May 2014 but the plan to provide health cover to 10 crore people has been stuck in the Union cabinet for a year now. This despite the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken about a National Health Protection Scheme in his Independence Day address last year.
On the opening day of the TB conference, speakers referred several times to how the road to end TB and the one to universal health coverage, converge. In his speech during the opening session, Dr Ghebreyesus said: “Seven countries — India, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Nigeria and South Africa — have more than 50 per cent of the TB burden of the world. These are the frontline in the battle against TB…. UHC, social protection and sustainable financing are key to end TB.”
He also talked about the importance of political commitment in combating drug resistant forms of the bacterial infection.
According to the National Strategic Plan for Tuberculosis Elimination 2017-25 that India adopted earlier this year, “TB kills an estimated 480,000 Indians every year and more than 1,400 every day.”
The plan also concedes that there are a million missing cases still.
In his speech in the first plenary of the day, Union Health Minister J P Nadda’s announcement that India is spending $3 billion of domestic funds towards TB elimination earned him applause. He said that for the Indian government the three pillars of TB elimination are Aadhaar, Jan Dhan Yojana and Nikshay, a web-based platform for notification and tracking of TB patients. “We have banned commercial serological tests for TB and every district now has a GenExpert machine (for TB detection). Detection, treatment and prevention of TB are free in the government sector,” Nadda said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his address to the plenary that TB is a state priority for the Russian Federation. A Moscow declaration that will set the roadmap to end TB will be adopted on Friday.