India is “grappling” with shortage of health workforce while high rates of tobacco use is contributing to the rise in non-communicable diseases, Health Minister J P Nadda on Monday said while asserting that the country is “alive” to these challenges and committed to addressing them.
“India’s large and diverse population is a formidable challenge. We know that many countries of this region including India, as well as of the world, are grappling with challenge of shortage of health workforce.
“India is at the crossroads of rising costs of healthcare and growing expectations of the people. We are facing a rise in non-communicable diseases. In India, high rates of tobacco use and hypertension prevalence in adults are risk factors contributing to this growing problem,” he said.
Nadda was making an intervention address at the 69th session of the WHO South East Asia Regional Committee being held at Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo.
To arrest the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases that kill 8.5 million people annually in WHO South-East Asia Region, member countries, including India on Monday adopted the ‘Colombo declaration’ which calls for strengthening delivery of services for these diseases at the primary healthcare level.
Nadda said that improvements made during the MDG period (1990-2015) demonstrate that with sound strategies and targeted interventions, significant progress can be made and India is poised to carry forward this momentum into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“We are alive to these health challenges and remain committed to addressing them,” he said.
He said that India’s life expectancy at birth has nearly doubled since Independence while the under-five mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio has declined by over 60 per cent since 1990.
He maintained that the new HIV infection among adult population has declined by 57 per cent while “substantial” reductions in the incidence of and mortality from major infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases have also been achieved.
Nadda noted that in 2015 India celebrated five years since the last case of wild polio was reported in the country while WHO confirmed India’s claim of yaws-free status in 2016. Yaws is a tropical infection of the skin, bones and joints.
“WHO has validated the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2015 from India. Cases of kala-azar declined by 11 per cent in 2015 from 2014, and 78 per cent since 2006. Leprosy has been eliminated in 84 per cent of the districts,” he said.
Nadda stressed the need to identify key strategic approaches that build on the gains that have been made so far, address weaknesses and move the country towards the goals.
Holding that different countries are at different stages of development and may not have uniform capacity and resources to meet the health challenges, he said that appropriate mechanisms and systems which provide both financial and technical resources need to be mobilised.
“In this context, we need to promote traditional, indigenous and alternative systems of medicine, which are rooted in the holistic concept of health. These are affordable, locally available and time-tested for efficacy.
“Collaboration among countries will be useful for strengthening our knowledge of traditional medicines and natural systems across the world and effectively integrating these into one public health delivery system with appropriate standards and quality checks,” he said.
Nadda said that regional cooperation is mutually beneficial, desirable and necessary for improving the quality of life of the peoples of the region.
“India is committed to working together with WHO and the member states in this region to address the common health challenges that we are facing,” he said.
He said that India was among the first countries to approve and adopt the National Multisectoral Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs and take it forward in consultation with other government ministries.
“India has shown leadership in tobacco control including the implementation of WHO FCTC, banning certain forms of smokeless tobacco products under food safety regulations and setting up a tobacco cessation Quit Line. We are setting up tobacco products testing labs at three existing drug/food laboratories.
“The next Global Adult Tobacco Survey is currently underway. We have also successfully implemented the new rules on pictorial health warnings mandating that such warnings should be printed on 85 per cent of principal display area of tobacco product packs on both sides,” he said.
Noting that India is working on the draft of a new National Health Policy, Nadda said that the country’s universal health plan, which is under development, aims to offer guaranteed health protection to the poor and under-privileged in the country.
“This will require a substantial investment over the coming decade. However, we are committed to moving solidly forward,” he said.