India’s feat of 100 crore Covid-19 vaccinations could not have been achieved without the efforts of the country’s scientists, health warriors, citizens and the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The feat will give a big boost to the global fight against the pandemic.
The task required a decisive leadership that could foresee the possible challenges. The direction was set in a meeting chaired by PM Modi as early as May 2020. The Centre extended support at every stage — research, regulatory approvals, streamlining cold storage facilities, building the CoWIN portal and fighting initial vaccine hesitancy.
PM Modi’s public health-related initiatives, in fact, began soon after he assumed office. On October 2, 2014, he launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) with the aim of making India open defecation free in five years. One of the largest cleanliness drives in the world, SBM has brought remarkable transformation and visible health benefits.
Studies have shown that it has improved child health and nutrition, besides providing dignity to women. The Jal Jeevan Mission to provide piped tap water connection to every household will be a game-changer in preventing water-borne diseases. In 2017, the Modi government embarked on a new National Health Policy to address the current and emerging challenges necessitated by the changing socio-economic and epidemiological landscapes since the last policy was framed in 2002. The Ayushman Bharat scheme, launched in 2018, is the world’s largest health insurance scheme covering a population of 50 crore. It has benefitted more than two crore Indians so far.
The CoWIN portal and the unprecedented expansion of telemedicine during the pandemic represent the government’s remarkable successes in leveraging state-of-the-art technology for healthcare. The Ayushman Bharat digital mission will connect the patients with doctors and hospitals across the country.
In 2003, the country had just one AIIMS. Under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, a policy to add five new AIIMS was framed and in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi evolved a policy to develop such institutes in every state. Today, work is underway to create more than 150 medical colleges. Over 30,000 MBBS seats and 24,000 postgraduate seats in medicine have been added since the Modi government assumed office.
The PLI scheme will ensure a level playing field for the domestic manufacturers of medical devices. Last year, when the pandemic struck, India wasn’t equipped to manufacture PPE kits and relied on imported protective equipment. From an actual shortage to manufacturing 2 lakh PPE kits and 2 lakh N-95 masks every day, India took less than a year to accomplish its aatmanirbhar vision in medical equipment manufacturing.
In line with the PM’s vision, Karnataka has ramped up its health infrastructure significantly. The state had only 725 ICU beds before the Covid outbreak. Currently, it has 3,877 ICU beds in government medical colleges and government hospitals.
There were 4,847 oxygenated beds before Covid. They have increased to 28,447, and regular beds have increased from 41,378 to 50,629. Pre-Covid, government hospitals and medical colleges had an oxygen capacity of 320 MT, which was augmented to 1,207 MT as of August 2021. During the second wave, oxygen logistics were a huge challenge — the number of cylinders before Covid was 2,180, but they have increased to 13,588 cylinders now. The number of oxygen concentrators has gone up from 585 before Covid to 6,511 as of September.
Karnataka leads in the implementation of Health and Wellness Centres (HWC) under the Ayushman Bharat Yojana in the year 2020-21.
The state upgraded 3,300 centres till March 31 — 146 per cent more than the set target. Karnataka has also exceeded the Centre’s target of upgrading PHCs to HWCs. The state leads the vaccination drive in all of south India, having administered more than 6.17 crore doses and aims to fully vaccinate the entire adult population by December end.
From promoting wellness to enhancing preventive healthcare, from increasing medical seats to incentivising medical equipment manufacturing, from universal health insurance coverage to creating digital health infrastructure, India’s approach towards healthcare under PM has been holistic and inclusive. It has laid a strong foundation for a healthier and prosperous New India.
This column first appeared in the print edition on October 28, 2021 under the title ‘Shot in the arm’. The writer is Minister for Health and Medical Education, Government of Karnataka