When will health-for-all become a reality in UP?

Citizen News Service - CNS
[Hindi] Although health-for-all has been the mission of government of India as well since years, a large part of our population reels under the shadow of life-threatening, preventable diseases and unable to access quality standard care. Even if they manage to get healthcare the expenditure pushes them into poverty.

At a media dialogue to mark 1st-ever Universal Health Coverage Day (12th December), Prof Rama Kant, a WHO Director-General's Awardee and former head of surgery department of KGMU wondered when will universal health coverage become a reality for UP citizens?

According to the WHO, Universal Health Coverage means that every person, everywhere, has access to healthcare without financial hardship. But UP is ridden with major health challenges and appalling health coverage on one hand and on another government policies are not able to mitigate risk factors of major non-communicable diseases such as cancers, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory illnesses, asthma, mental ill-health among others. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) or other sexually transmitted infections including HIV are also struggling to get 'universal health coverage'.

Risk factors that put our people at risk of preventable diseases include: tobacco and alcohol use, malnutrition and fast food, poor hygiene and sanitation, poverty, cook stoves using bio-mass fuel, pollution, improper housing, over crowding, poor infection control, rising prices of healthcare, among others. Dr Sandeep Pandey, a Magsaysay Awardee said: "Public private partnership has the same effect as privatisation - as it deprives services to most-in-need and increases the cost of essential health services. We need to strengthen public health system as it is the only way to serve most-in-need populations, and also make sure that corporations are not able to sell unhealthy lifestyles to our people."

Dr Anthony Harries of International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) said in a web-link: "No one should go bankrupt when they get sick. Lack of affordable, quality health care traps families and nations in poverty. Health is a human right and a cornerstone of sustainable development and global security. No one should have to go bankrupt and lose their savings and livelihood because they got sick. Universal health coverage changes the way that health care is financed and delivered, so that it is more equitable and more effective."

If health systems and health coverage were strong enough in UP then preventable and curable diseases like childhood pneumonia will not be biggest cause of death for children under 5. Dr Abhishek Verma, a senior consultant at RML Hospital in Gomti Nagar said: "One main reason for pneumonia is air pollution. There is a direct link between pollution and respiratory infection. Lung capacity of small children is less and even a small amount of allergen in their narrow respiratory tubes is enough to trigger respiratory problems like pneumonia, bronchitis or bronchi pneumonia. Indoor biofuel smoke is also harmful as carbon particles enter the lungs and create problems. The effect of pollution is magnified during winters when there is more humidity in the atmosphere. Exclusive breast feeding for the first 6 months can help a lot as mother's milk not only provides adequate nutrition but also develops protective antibodies which increase immunity of the child. Parents should protect the children from smoke and dust and keep them well clothed during winters. Taking the child with symptoms of cold and fever early to a doctor, can help in early diagnosis of pneumonia and save the child. Vaccination against it is also an important preventive measure."

Dr Harries added that "Governments are designing their own unique pathways toward health for all and finding new ways to exchange lessons learned on the ground, because universal health coverage can help stop the world’s biggest killers. The poorest and most marginalized populations bear the brunt of preventable maternal deaths and diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases (e.g., cancer and heart disease)."

To fight these health threats, we must reach the populations consistently hit hardest by them all. Because health transforms communities, economies and nations. Access to quality health care should never depend on where you live, how much money you have or your race, gender or age" said Dr Sandeep Pandey. 

Citizen News Service - CNS
12 December 2014