Recently Union Ministry of AYUSH advised the state governments to create a separate ministry of AYUSH with the view that with the ministry in place, the states will at least have a directorate to work in the area of AYUSH promotion which will create employment opportunities for local AYUSH doctors. In an exclusive interview with EC’s Mohd Ujaley, Union Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare, Shripad Yesso Naik, says “In future, we are also aiming to have one AYUSH doctor in every primary healthcare centre across the country.”
There is lot of criticism of your government for not adequately focusing on healthcare and also slashing the budget for health. What have been the major achievements of your government in healthcare in last one year?
I think, the facts related to healthcare are misplaced. We have not slashed any budget. With new tax devolution formula, share of state governments in central taxes has increased from 32% to 42%. Therefore, in some of the schemes now states are bound to take the lead. For us health is one of the key focus area. Our National Healthcare Policy 2015, clearly put the focus back to the quality, affordability and availability of healthcare in the country. If you look at what has happened earlier, due to poor policy, the cost of healthcare increased tremendously, benefiting the private companies, not the common-man.
Also, with the vision to provide affordable and readily available healthcare across the country, Prime Minister Modi has created a separate ministry of AYUSH which deals in the area of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani , Siddha and Homoeopathy. In this new ministry, since last five month, we have been doing lot of activities and down the line you will see results on the ground.
Prime Minister himself takes lot of interest in healthcare. We have launched health insurance schemes recently, also there is lot of impetus on building the quality infrastructure for healthcare in the country. And, with the success of our Jan-Dhan-Yojana, we are sure that large scale inclusion of the people into banking system is also going to improve their ability to access healthcare services.
Prime Minister has often emphasised on “minimum government and maximum governance”. In that light, was there a need of a separate ministry for AYUSH? What have been the progress since the establishment of your ministry in November 2014?
Our government is fully committed to Prime Minister’s vision of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’. And, you would have observed it, the way government has repealed archaic laws, states have been given more financial share, and use of technology is being promoted for governance, all of these are testimony to our vision of ‘ minimum government and maximum governance’.
As far as ministry of AYUSH is concerned, you must note that a large part of the population have been using AYUSH remedies since ages in India. Earlier, we had a department under the ministry of health and family welfare, but understanding the importance of Indian systems of medicine, challenges of availability and affordability of healthcare, and zeal for bringing the educational standards, quality control and standardrisation and research in AYUSH, the Prime Minister took the decision to elevate the department to a full-fledged ministry.
Since the establishment of the ministry in November 2014, we have taken lot of initiatives. To spread awareness about the benefits of AYUSH, we have organised AYUSH Expo in the capital city of major states. The responses have been encouraging. We have also come out with AYUSH Mission on the line of National Health Mission. All the small schemes related to AYUSH have been merged into this mission. Our aim is to bring both ayurvedic and allopathic medicines near to the people wherever they are. State governments are being encouraged to create AYUSH hospitals with the help of central assistance. So in a broader term, we are working in multipronged areas, when it comes to AYUSH.
Recently, we also had a meeting with the states health ministers. We advised them to establish a separate ministry of AYUSH in their respective states. Some of the states have already done it. With the ministry in place, the states will at least have a directorate to work in the area of AYUSH promotion which will create an employment opportunities for local AYUSH doctors. In future, we are also aiming to have one AYUSH doctor in every primary healthcare centre across the country.
You do not have any regulatory body in AYUSH right now. So how do you plan to ensure quality, standardisation and compliance?
You are absolutely right that a regulatory body is needed to ensure quality, compliance and standardisation. In this direction, we have formed a task force to suggest the intricacies. They are likely to submit their report in six months and thereafter, we shall a have regulatory body. More than that, we are trying to establish a highest body in every stream of AYUSH. The body will not only ensure quality and compliance, also bring lot of credibility to the system. Today, the AYUSH doctors are in dilemma, they do not have enough job opportunity and job security and that is why they are unable to match the confidence of an MBBS doctor. We are aware of challenges and government is working to overcome them.
Government has not allocated you the budget that you demanded. Will that impact the overall scheme of AYUSH?
We have just started. Finance Minister has announced initial funds for the AYUSH department in his budget speech. With increasing footprint and demand from states for AYUSH, we can always request for more money. For us money is not an issue. Our government is committed and we will achieve our target. If you look at budget utilisation, in the past, money went back to government because some department or state could not utilised the allocated funds, all such things are not going to happen with us. We have already asked all the state governments to send proposal on how they would like to use AYUSH in their state. Our vision is that every state should have one national level AYUSH institute. In Delhi, we are already building an AYUSH AIIMS. Within a six month, we will inaugurate the building. So we are judiciously using our budget and if a necessity arises for more money, we will request the government.
MBBS doctors are reluctant to serve in rural areas and mechanism to deploy alternate medicine practitioners are also not in place. So in your opinion, what is the best way out?
Technology is the way out. Not only in healthcare, technology has differentiating role in other fields too. I agree with you that cost of healthcare has gone up and we have acute shortage of MBBS doctors in the country. For getting a standard level of MBBS doctor and patient ratio, you need structural changes, reforms and more medical colleges. All of these are achievable with right policy and focus. We in the government are trying to do so. But to address the present challenge, we need to utilise the service of paramedical staffs, AYUSH doctors and alternate medicine practitioner. With the help of basic training in the area of allopathy, they can be placed in primary healthcare centre. This will ensure early diagnosis and flawless referral to district or bigger hospitals. With the advancement in telemedicine, today it is easy to get connected to experts or senior doctors. I have written to Prime Minister in this regard and requested him to consider the proposal.
You mentioned about technology in healthcare sector. Has the eHealth been able to deliver the desire outcome in the country?
There can be debate on what we have been able to achieve with the help of technology in healthcare sector but it is very much settled that technology is the way forward. As I told you earlier that our aim is to reach out to the last mile. Technology alone can help us in achieving the goal of healthcare in rural areas. Technology is the best integrator and vehicle to reach to the people. And, also it is equally important in the making of medicine, their distribution and properly managing the needs and availability.
With the best practices in the area of eHealth, we can achieve the scale and efficiency that is needed in our country. Our primary healthcare centres take care of different type of patients. There are some who require referral or special attention. In all such cases, with the help of telemedicine, primary healthcare centre can connect with the district healthcare centre or experts anywhere in the country for advise. This has huge potential of proper diagnosis, smooth referral and ultimately making things easier for people in rural areas.
Also, we have proposed to set up a National e-Health Authority (NeHA), which will be responsible for development of an Integrated Health Information System and enforcing the laws & regulations relating to the privacy and security of the patients health information & records. The Authority will help us to integrate multiple health IT systems in a way that ensures security, confidentiality and privacy of patient data. This has potential to replace the the present practice of patients undergoing fresh tests every time they switch doctors as a centralised electronic health record repository of all citizens will ensure that the health history and status of all patients would always be available to all health institutions. This would also expedite diagnosis and treatment.
Before the first reshuffle, you were heading Ministry of Tourism. What kind of opportunities do you see for wellness tourism in India?
I was there for short time but I did put system in place as you know lot of things have to be ensured for tourism promotion. In our country, AYUSH has supplemented the tourism industry. We have seen some states doing outstanding in the area of wellness tourism. Kerala is one of the finest example. In Kerala, about 25% patient are foreigners. In place like Goa, so far the focus has been on beach tourism, but time has come that all the states should focus towards wellness tourism, village tourism, agriculture tourism, as it has huge potential for job creation and earning for the states.