Around nine lakh ASHA workers have been trained to provide healthcare facilities to every 1000 population, says Dr Jagdish Prasad, Director General, Health Services Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government
Please brief us on the latest healthcare initiatives in the rural and semi urban space in India.
The Government of India is running its National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) since 2005, the purpose of which is to encourage health coverage in the rural areas and make available health services till the community level. ASHA workers have been appointed for this purpose. Around nine lakh ASHA workers have been trained to provide healthcare facilities to every 1000 population. We have also taken measures to train the sub centres, PSC, CSC and district hospitals.
These initiatives have achieved significant results. Infant mortality has been successfully brought down to 40 per 1000 population, maternal mortality rate a n d total fertility rate have also been successfully controlled. States such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Maharashtra have made significant progress and their health standards are far better as compared to many European countries.
However, there is a lot to achieve as far as the rural health standards of people are concerned.
The availability of doctors at the village level or the sub centre level is still a concern. What are the steps you are taking to address this problem?
In order to fill up the vacancy of having adequate number of doctors in the rural areas, we have introduced telemedicine to reach out healthcare services. The ANMs present at the sub centres have basic knowledge of medicines and they can help the patience to communicate with doctors sitting at tertiary care in hospitals. We are planning to attach a medical college in every district and we want the medical colleges to make a complete development plan of the district, sub district, CSC, PSC and sub centers. We are also planning to give hands on training to the doctors working in the district hospitals. Thus, by the use of Information Technology, we will be able to cater to all the healthcare needs in the rural apace.
The Bill and Millinda Gates foundation has covered 800 villages in Bihar. Through the system of telemedicine, people from these villages can reach out to the doctors. Kits have also been made available so that the body temperature, blood pressure, ECG, auscultation (sound of the heart and lungs) can be sent to the doctors through telemedicine and thus the patents can be treated.
We are also running health programmes in schools of the districts in which health cards of the students will be made. If any student has any disease or defect, it will be detected and treated. We have provided a fund for this and this fund will help doctors treat patients free of cost. Some states have already done this. The introduction of health cards for students will ensure that we have healthy children in the society.
We have launched National Rheumatic Heart Programme in the country in which we are trying to teach children, parents and teachers that symptoms such as sore throats, joint pain can be the indications of rheumatic heart diseases. Similarly, we have identified 35 diseases and provided doctors who will visit the schools and make health cards of students and treat them in case they are suffering from any disease.
How are you developing awareness regarding healthcare in these areas?
We are introducing health education in schools in which health education will be imparted to students studying in between standard three to 12. In this curriculum, students will learn everything about non communicable diseases, communicable diseases, prevention of these diseases, trauma prevention, right dietary plans, how to detect diseases in their early stage etc. This will be a compulsory subject so that all the students can learn this and also teach their parents. The Government of India has already prepared the syllabus for this and the book is also ready. We hope to introduce this book in the coming session. Thus, we hope that this initiative will help us cure the non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, cancer etc, which are causing almost 57 percent of deaths in the country.
We have also launched a screening programme for cervical cancer, breast cancer and for mouth cancer. These can be cured if they can be treated early. We have decided to help the 50 medical colleges where there is a nucleus of cancer treatment. We will provide them a fund of `45 crore so that they can upgrade the institutes. Besides, GoT will provide funds for developing state cancer institutes.
Are there particular challenges that you are facing?
Uneven distribution of human resource is a big challenge for us. We have more than eight lakh doctors available to us in the AYUSH system. They should be allowed to work so that the gap which is felt at the lower levels can be filled up.
How are you planning to adopt IT to develop the health sector?
Besides telemedicine, we are planning to introduce tele education, which will help medical students to learn from the best professors who deliver lectures in the best institutes. This will also address the problem of lack of professors. The Medical Council of India has to give its permission for the same.
What is your opinion on making healthcare more affordable for everyone?
In order to make healthcare services affordable, the public healthcare system has to improve. We have formed an act under which we are trying to regulate the prices charged by private hospitals so that they cannot charge exorbitant from patients. If this gets implemented in all the states, healthcare expenses will be so high.
What is your vision for a healthy India?
Prevention of diseases should be our priority as most of the diseases can be prevented. Regular health checkups are also very important. Our traditional ways such as Yoga, meditation should be adopted in our daily routine to keep us healthy. Taking care of our diet and regular exercises is equally important to prevent the lifestyle diseases.