Investment in PHC is the most inclusive way to achieve Universal Health Coverage: Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar

Delhi Declaration on strengthening primary healthcare as a key element towards achieving universal health coverage was also signed at the meeting

“Investment in Primary Health Care (PHC) is the most inclusive, equitable and cost-effective way to achieve Universal Health Coverage.” This was stated by Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, Dr Bharti Pravin Pawar as she addressed the Ministerial Roundtable conference at the 76th session of the World Health Organization Regional Committee for South-East Asia.

Delhi Declaration on strengthening primary healthcare as a key element towards achieving universal health coverage was also signed at the meeting.

Reaffirming the vision of PM Modi of “Antyodaya”, the principle of leaving no one behind, Dr Pawar stated India’s leadership in the G20 has emphasised the importance of strengthening national health systems by putting people at the centre of preparedness and preparing them to respond effectively. India’s strong health system relies on a “whole of government” and “whole of society” approach. She added that this would facilitate in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC), with the goal of strengthening primary health care and improving essential health services and health systems to pre-pandemic levels.

Speaking on the impact of India’s significant reforms, Dr Pawar stated “More than 1.61 lakh Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs) are transforming the delivery of comprehensive primary health care services which are universally free and provide to all age groups from birth to death, through a continuum of care approach.” She mentioned that it is leading to improved population coverage, reduced out-of-pocket expenditure, mitigation of risk factors and decongestion of higher level of facilities, thus improving quality of care at all levels.

Lauding the policy reforms undertaken for primary healthcare, the MoS said that “As one of the many policy reforms, the Community Health Officer (CHO) cadre has been introduced at primary levels. India’s ASHA program is the largest community health worker programme globally.” She stated that to ensure that essential quality health services are available across all levels of care, Indian Public Health Standards have been revised in 2022 to align them with PHC priorities. She further added that: “Quality accreditation of PHC facilities is undertaken, under India’s flagship National Quality Assurance Standards (NQAS) initiative.”

Praising the growth momentum of health initiatives in India, Dr Pawar noted that “the key enablers for India to deliver comprehensive primary health care services and expand at this scale have been the availability of a skilled workforce well equipped in terms of training and the availability of minimum standards of medicines and supplies and the integrated supply chain.” She further added “Digital health ecosystem, community mobilization and health promotion have been key enablers to all service delivery interventions.”

Reiterating the government’s commitment and resolve, the MoS stated that the Government of India has shifted the focus from ‘illness to wellness’ with activities like Yoga, Cyclothon, Walk-a-thons, and Fit India and Eat Right campaigns. “Telemedicine platforms have enabled the health system of India to provide medical advice via e-Sanjeevani thereby increasing access,” she noted. Dr Pawar highlighted that in light of the collaborative spirit, the ‘Heal in India’ initiative seeks to provide affordable, integrated and holistic treatment to the world in India.

Speaking on the future blueprint, Dr Pawar stated “AB-HWCs are now gearing up to be able to address the existing gaps in specific areas of care i.e. mental health, elderly care, and palliative care.” She added that Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) will aim at creating a comprehensive digital health ecosystem, and investments towards standards-based digital health transformation.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Director, WHO SEARO (Regional Office for South-East Asia)  applauded the comprehensive health care services provided at primary level in India at the AB-HWCs. “I was amazed at the provision of services being provided, including preventive services.”. She also cited the addition of the Community Health Officer cadre as an extremely good addition, and praised the transition from ‘illness to wellness’, stating “that is the way we need to proceed.”



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