NEW DELHI(PTI): Eradication of polio from India was a high point in the health sector during 2014 which also saw some improvement in the country’s health indices like maternal and infant mortality rate though there was a lot of ground to be covered.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision in November to change Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, a practicing doctor and a former health minister of Delhi, surprised many.
His replacement J P Nadda is considered a close aide of Modi and has been rather low key compared to Vardhan’s penchant for almost daily statements.
Nadda is busy giving final touches to the NDA government’s ambitious National Health Assurance Mission, which aims to provide free health insurance to the poor. It is likely to be rolled out next year.
There were mixed signals from the new government against the use of tobacco as after hiking cigarette prices it did not enforce its earlier proposal to ban sale of loose cigarettes and make tougher anti-smoking laws.
As Congress-led UPA was swept out of power by the BJP-led NDA, the saffron party’s favourite health projects like promotion of ayurveda and yoga received official push.
Government cleared National Ayush Mission (NAM) to address gaps in health services in vulnerable and far-flung areas of the country.
Through ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy (Ayush) mission, the Centre seeks to support the efforts of state governments for providing Ayush health services and education in the country, particularly in vulnerable and remote areas.
Government has already approved setting-up of 18 new ayurveda colleges this year, against permission for only one such institution in the past three years.
The Centre also came up with a proposal of opening AIIMS- like institutions in most states.
India’s biggest recognition in the field during the year was seen in March when the World Health Organisation gave it polio-free certification for reporting nil case of the crippling disease for three years on a trot and described it as an example for others to follow.
A global study said India reduced child and maternal mortality since 2000 at a rate faster than the world’s but it is still counted among the 26 countries where 80 per cent of deaths in young children occur.
India is also likely to miss Millennium Development Goals as the initiatives for improvement in health sector over the last decade were not enough to achieve the targets.
India’s MDGs, which have been fixed for 2015, for Under-5 Mortality Rate (U5MR) and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) are 42 and 28 respectively while 109 for Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR).
According to latest figure – which pertain to 2012 – the U5MR, IMR and MMR at present were 52, 42 and 178 respectively.
India was also convulsed with Ebola scare if not the disease itself as the deadly virus rampaged through parts of West Africa after first cases were reported in March. WHO has put the total death toll close to 7400.
Amid concerns over the country’s capability in dealing with any outbreak of the virus, the disease remained far off the Indian shores while the government put in measures at airports and sea ports to scan incoming passengers.
One “cured” Ebola patient of Indian origin was quarantined after detection of the virus in his semen but government insisted he was not infectious.
In good news for diabetes patients, indigenously- developed blood sugar testing strips costing as low as Rs 5 each and glucometers priced between Rs 500-800 were launched by the government early in the year.
Attempts to ram up the country’s poor public health infrastructure were also made and, according to previous UPA government, the Centre has opened 19 super specialty blocks and colleges in six All India Medical Institutes. Teacher student ratio for PG courses has been achieved at 1:2 and the cap on intake of MBBS doctors has been increased from 150 to 250.
However, the lack of increase in the number of MBBS seats remained a concern.