Source: The Hitavada      Date: 15 Sep 2018 11:46:24

WITH the launch of the flagship healthcare programme Ayushman Bharat of the Central Government on September 23 from Jharkhand, Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi will be fulfilling yet another promise he had made to the nation when he assumed office four years ago. The ambitious health programme conceived by the Prime Minister is being watched with interest not only in the country but abroad as also. This becomes clear from a report that a well-known UK-based medical journal ‘The Lancet’ has carried in a special feature on the Ayushman Bharat programme and has lauded the initiative of the Prime Minister for touching upon such a critical issue for the masses, especially for the poor and middle classes.

The Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Lancet’ Mr. Richard Horton comments that Mr. Narendra Modi is the first Prime Minister of India to have prioritised universal healthcare. He says the Prime Minister has rightly grasped the importance of health not only as a natural right of the people, but also as a political instrument to meet the growing expectations of India’s emerging middle class. Mr. Horton sees healthcare as a major issue in the forthcoming general election in 2019 in the country.

Whether Mr. Horton’s conjecture that the ambitious healthcare programme, which he terms as ‘Modicare’, will translate into a political tool for the ruling party, is a different matter altogether, but the fact remains that the Prime Minister has recognised healthcare as the basic right of the citizens, makes all the difference. It is for the first time that healthcare is being devised in a mission mode so that the needy citizens get easy access to healthcare.

While the rich and the resourceful people are in a position to meet their requirements pertaining to health from the flourishing and ever developing private sector with latest technologies and expertise, it is the poor and the middle classes, with no or little resources, who need a helping hand in meeting their healthcare needs. They can avail services at public sector healthcare facilities. But these fall woefully short in meeting the needs of the needy, not only in terms of technology but also by way of expertise and other basic infrastructure. And the Prime Minister recognises this reality that faces the poor and needy middle class people. The launch of the Ayushman Bharat is the result of this realisation on the part of the leadership of the nation.

There is no denying that universal healthcare has never got to the centre-stage in any party’s political discourse or policy planning process unlike several other issues. That has led to the neglect of this critical human service that concerns crores of needy people. This Mr. Modi has recognised and has come out with his flagship programme under Ayushman Bharat. The two components of the programme include opening of 1,50,000 healthcare and wellness centres across the country to deliver primary healthcare facilities, ensuring universal coverage and second, the ambitious National Health Protection Mission (NHPM). The NHPM aims at providing health insurance coverage of Rs. 5 lakh per family annually. The scheme is targeted to cover ten crore poor families.

While these schemes are designed to serve the needy poor and the middle class and therefore welcome, the real test will be in how diligently they are implemented at the ground level. Besides, the schemes to yield result, the infrastructure in the public sector will have to be upgraded and refurbished to meet the growing health needs of the populace, which The Lancet terms as ‘health crisis’ in India. If the programme brings political gain to the ruling party that will be only a by-product of a welcome decision, but the gain would be for the entire nation.