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The Union Health Minister was in a back-slapping congratulatory mood as he delivered the keynote address at the first convocation of the Kerala University of Health Sciences (KUHS). He said the UPA government had transformed the medical sector and that the country had witnessed the longest polio-free period in the last four years since the UPA government had launched its eradication efforts.
He also said that the launch of the NRHM by the government seven years ago had transformed the healthcare landscape of this country and substantial progress had been achieved. 'The country has brought down maternal and infant mortality rates. The number of HIV cases has reduced by 57 per cent. Nearly 70,000 beds have been increased in the government health institutions for provision of essential and emergency services,' he said.
He also claimed that the UPA reforms had transformed the medical sector in the field of medical education by establishing new AIIMS institutes, upgrading state government colleges, nursing schools and had improved public health by sick new-born care units, home-based care services and mobile medical units.
Mr Azad noted that the government had strengthened immunisation activities against various diseases. 'Hepatitis B vaccine has been included in the universal immunisation programme for the entire county. Pentavalent vaccine was started in eight States.' 'The number of MBBS seats has been increased by 46 per cent and PG seats by 70 per cent in the last four years. During this period, 72 new medical colleges, including six new AIIMS, were established raising the seats from 290 to 362. To give a boost to paramedical education, a National Institute of Paramedical Sciences at Delhi and eight Regional Institutes are being established.'
More changes down the line?
The Health Ministry are also considering various other proposals to relax the prerequisite rules of infrastructure requirements for establishing medical colleges, formulating guidelines to allow district hospitals to establish medical colleges with private partners and compulsory posting of one year for medical graduates at primary health centres and PGs at community health centres during their internship period.
The single entrance test, National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), for admission of UG and PG medical courses was another important initiative of the government, the Minister said.
Mr Azad also congratulated the rapid strides made by the state of Kerala in the field of healthcare and lauded them for having indicator like maternal mortality rate (MMR), infant mortality rate (IMR) and total fertility rate (TFR) on par with developed nations. It would not have been possible without the progressive outlook and leadership provided by successive State governments, irrespective of party affiliations, the Minister said.
While Mr Azad might be in a self-congratulatory mood, the fact remains that overall; India's health indicators are among the worst in the world on par with Sub-Saharan African countries. More women and children die in India due to simple causes like lack of safe drinking water and poor nutrition than anywhere else in the world. We still have the highest number of pre-term deaths, 50% of all Indian children are either stunted or wasted due to poor nutrition and nutrition levels particularly among women are very low. To add to that we are currently playing host to a dangerous version of highly infectious form of tuberculosis and communicable diseases like swine flu, malaria, encephalitis and dengue have become seasonal. And we are not just battling developing world diseases there's been an exponential rise in the cases of non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart diseases,diabetes, hypertension and COPD.
Before we can address all the above issues, there's no reason to believe that the meagre steps the government has taken in the field of healthcare is any cause for celebration or acknowledgement.
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