Tuesday, April 24, 2012

India Committed To Provide Equitable Healthcare To All

Health experts from the eleven Member States of the WHO’s South-East Asia Region met in New Delhi last week (16-17 April) to brainstorm about universal health care in the region. WHO is urging countries in the region to give priority to public health and the health needs of the poor through adoption of appropriate technology and health systems that are anchored at the community level.

“The Government of India accords great importance to ensuring equitable health care to all its citizens. The National Rural Health Mission, one of the largest public health programmes, is an ambitious multi-sectoral initiative taken by the Government of India in 2005-06 to make essential health care available, accessible and affordable to the rural citizens”, stated India's Union Health and Family Welfare Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, while inaugurating the two day deliberations at the WHO SEARO's meeting on Universal Health Coverage.

The Minister said “It is matter of grave concern that people in our region have the highest out-of-pocket expenditures on health, as compared to anywhere in the world. In India, out of the total out-of-pocket expenses, nearly 62% is incurred by the rural populations.”

Azad added that at this point in time there is sufficient evidence and experience from all over the globe that indicates that Universal Health Coverage is a potential tool that can reduce prevalent health inequities, contribute to human development and accelerate our quest for Health for All.

Azad hoped that the international experiences presented at the conference would help us to understand what other countries are doing to cover all segments of their populations particularly, the disadvantaged, marginalized and hard to reach sections in rural areas. He said that in the scenario of several sectors competing for scarce resources, a critical issue that needs intensive discussion is health financing.

The three strategic dimensions for universal health coverage are:

  • Population coverage, where all citizens are covered by health services irrespective of capacity to pay;
  • A service package offered universally to all citizens customized to meet ground realities and all resource needs, including financing;  and
  • Ensuring utilization, affordability and sustainability.

It was noted during the deliberations that Countries have placed different emphasis on each of these three dimensions in their path to universal health coverage:

  • China for example is targeting access to a limited package of services for its entire population in its first phase of universal health coverage.

  • Nepal is committed to providing maternal and child health services free at primary level and prioritizing better access for the poor in secondary care.

  • Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has been successfully delivering a more comprehensive package for sometime now.

“Equity remains the underpinning principle that we must not lose sight of” said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

Ramasami Calls for Promoting Quality Engineering in India

Dr. T Ramasami, Secretary, Department of Science & Technology (DST) , during his address at the silver jubilee function of the Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE), on 20th April stressed that there is a need to enhance the quality of engineering education in the country.

He said that though the number of engineering graduates have increased substantially in the past twenty five years, there is a need to improve the quality of engineering education and the Academy has an important role to play in this area. 

INAE founded in 1987, elects most distinguished engineers, engineer-scientists and technologists covering the entire spectrum of engineering disciplines as Fellows from India and the world over; the Academy was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi the same year. It has been headed in the past by some of the most distinguished engineers such as Dr. APJ AbdulKalam, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Prof. P. Rama Rao, Prof. PV Indiresan and Dr. K Kasturirangan.

INAE functions as an apex body and promotes the practice of engineering  and technology and the related sciences for their application for solving problems of national importance. The Academy provides a forum for futuristic planning for country’s development requiring engineering and technological inputs and brings together specialists from such fields as may be necessary for comprehensive solutions to the needs of the country.
At present  INAE has 685 Fellows from India and 54 Foreign Fellows on its rolls identified in ten Engineering Sections.

On completion of 25 years of  existence, the INAE Silver Jubilee Inaugural Function was held on April 20, 2012, at Indian National Science Academy (INSA) Auditorium, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi. The event was marked by release of several publications: a coffee table book 'Glimpses of Indian Engineering Achievements'; INAE Study Reports on 'Technologies for Healthcare Sector in India', 'Assessment of Civil Engineering Inputs for Infrastructural Development” and “Water Resource Management'; INAE video film on 'Engineering Excellence in India', and release of  a 'Special Cover'. 

During his address, Dr. Baldev Raj, President, INAE mentioned that the Academy has recently brought out comprehensive and exhaustive reports covering review of national and international technological and commercial aspects, in the selected areas of national interest, viz., healthcare technologies, civil infrastructure and water resources management.
The Academy has also set-up three Forums, viz, INAE Forum on Engineering Education, INAE Forum on Microelectronics and INAE Forum on Energy. One of the focus areas of the Academy is to find innovative mechanisms to increase synergy among the fellows and nurture young leaders capable of meeting the challenges in future and be effective with policy makers to realise paradigm changes to solve the challenges in an inclusive fashion.

Prof. René Dändliker, President, International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences, Inc. (CAETS) during his address mentioned that the primary objective of CAETS is to provide an independent apolitical and non-governmental international organization of engineering and technological sciences academies.

Dr. R. Chidambaram  emphasized that the wealth of the nation depends on innovative technologies. He mentioned that India, through its Universities, Research Institutions, S&T Departments, including Mission-oriented Agencies (Atomic Energy, Space, Defence Research) has laid a strong foundation for Basic Research as well as Applied Research and Technology Development.
During this function, Silver Jubilee Distinguished Lecturers were delivered by Prof. P Rama Rao, Chairman, Governing Council, ARCI Hyderabad and former Secretary, Dept of Science & Technology, Govt. of India; Dr. Anil Kakodkar, DAE Homi Bhabha Chair, former Chairman, AEC and Secretary, DAE, Govt. of India; and Dr. Baba N Kalyani, CMD, Bharat Forge Ltd., Pune.

Prof. P Rama Rao brought out that wealth and prosperity of the nation The wealth and prosperity of a nation depend on the effective utilisation of its human and material resources through industrialisation (investment capital). The use of human material for industrialisation demands its education in science and training in technical skills.

He mentioned that India being a vast country, diversity of governance systems is truly mind-boggling and unlike in any other country in the world. Govt support to private institutions should be seriously considered. Prof. P Rama Rao correlated economic growth with relevant post-graduate and doctoral specialization.

Distinguished Lecture delivered by Dr. Anil Kakodkar was on the subject securing the future of energy in India. He mentioned that the securing India’s future is indeed a major challenge as India alone would need around 40% of present global electricity generation to be added to reach an average 5000 kWh per capita electricity generation.

Dr. Kakodkar said that while solar energy represents a large enough energy source, it can be tapped only by providing adequate collection areas, and if it  becomes commercially viable. Till then, nuclear energy is the only other large enough clean and sustainable energy source and  commercially viable, providing around a sixth of global electricity for decades. Also it does not emit carbon-di-oxide.

Dr. Baba N Kalyani during his Distinguished Lecture mentioned that while China would be second largest economy in the world, India will be third largest economy. There is a dire need for Indian Industry to invest in R&D rather than importing technologies from abroad. For this, the need for indigenous manufacturing technology is vital.

Dr. Kalyani mentioned that advanced economies and emerging economies are on diverging trajectories. Emerging countries generally have favourable demographics (except China), Govt. debt under 70% of GDP, and prospects of modest to high GDP growth. The world’s economic centre of gravity will shift towards emerging countries in the years to come. He highlighted the importance of high level human expertise, proper policies and need based products.