(The Hindu, June 23, 2011)


New Delhi: Human rights activist Binayak Sen called for making healthcare a legal entitlement for all.


Speaking at the first meeting of the Steering Committee on Health, constituted by the Planning Commission to advise it on the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17), Dr. Sen said the proposed National Health Act must be

enacted to ensure healthcare for all as in the absence of such legislation effective implementation of schemes was not possible.


The proposed Act would guarantee the right to comprehensive, quality healthcare at public expense in health institutions to all people.


Appreciating the recommendations of the high-level expert group on universal health coverage, Dr. Sen described it as “appropriate and something that recounted the aspirations of the people.” He, however, felt that nutrition needed to be given more focus and a separate working group on nutrition must be set up.


Dr. Sen, who was included in the steering committee, within weeks of his being granted bail by the Supreme Court in a case of sedition, also advocated the universal public distribution system and increased allocation for each family. Financial devolution for States was equally important, he said.


Dr. Sen will provide his input on the health of tribal children, based on his experience as a pediatrician in Chhattisgarh’s tribal belt. He represents the Bilaspur-based healthcare organization Jan Swasthya Sahyog. The 40-member committee on health is chaired by Syeda Hameed.


The high-level expert group on universal health coverage was set up by the Planning Commission last year to develop a blueprint and investment plan for meeting the human resource requirements to achieve `health for all’ by 2020. Dr. Srinath Reddy, who chairs the group, also made a presentation on the preliminary report of the group which would be incorporated in the steering committee’s final report and eventually in the 12th Plan document. The final recommendations of the expert group will be presented by the end of next month and the steering committee will meet one more time in September for finalizing its report.


The meeting gave a general reflection of the goals, which could not be achieved in the 11th Plan, and asked for suggestions for better implementation. Presentations were made by the Planning Commission Adviser on Health; Union Secretary, Health and Family Welfare; the Secretary, Department of Health Research; and the Director General of the National AIDS Control Organization.


Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty of Narayana Hrudayalaya said there was a need for having more paramedical staff and health workers and fewer sophisticated hospitals. This could be done by strengthening district hospitals. He also suggested setting up more medical colleges.


On the issue of creating a separate cadre of healthcare workers for rural areas, the Indian Medical Association continued to oppose the proposal even though the members said the degree could be renamed as Bachelor of Primary Health Practice.


The steering committee will deliberate upon the given recommendations on an adverse sex ratio and child sex ratio, maternal health and nutrition, child health and nutrition, elderly persons, population stabilization, occupational diseases, conflict and related diseases including mental health.

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