Dr. Harsh Vardhan, who has taken over as the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare is well qualified to be undertaking this critical responsibility. Being both a seasoned politician and a well-known doctor, he has to now steer this important ministry at a time when the Prime Minister has made it clear that Health will be one of the key areas of focus of his government. Apart from ensuring oversight over a enormous machinery that will have to depend on the State Governments to deliver, some of the critical policy areas that he needs to focus on will be:
- The challenge of meeting the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.
- Address the shortage of qualified and competent professionals, especially in rural India. This can be by the introduction of new courses for training a new cadre of Physician Assistants and taking a constructive view of the rural physicians’ course.
- Relooking at medical education and making the curriculum relevant to meeting the present day challenges and introducing concepts of the practice of integrative medicine.
- Providing palliative care, programs for aging populations and bringing mental health care into the mainstream primary health care delivery system.
- Promote the usage of generic drugs.
- Promote and develop AYUSH holistically, giving it full status of being a logical part of the health care system, rather than calling it ‘alternative’. The benefits of Yoga are now established beyond any scientific doubt and the government should look at popularizing it without giving it any ‘political’ or religious colour.
- Encouraging traditional health practitioners after putting in suitable regulatory and facilitatory processes to ensure quality of care and preventing unscientific and irrational practices. The health ministry should also work in tandem with other relevant ministries in building the scientific knowledge base of the more than 30,000 medicinal plants in use and encourage bio-prospecting and product development.
- Stop any future verticalization of health care programs, but also integrate existing ones into the mainstream primary health care delivery framework including the HIV/AIDS programs.
- The Ministry should take forward the process of regulating quality of care rendered by the private sector and also bring in accreditation processes.
Though this seems like a long wish list, it should not be difficult for this government which has been voted in with the popular expectation of bringing in the much needed change that India is desperately crying for.