It is indeed a privilege to be present today at the convocation of the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) in its Golden Jubilee Year. At the outset, I wish to congratulate the students who have reached an important milestone in their education and today’s awardees for their academic achievements.
I would like to convey my appreciation to teachers who nurtured the students to be proficient in their disciplines and imparted the necessary skills and competence in them to become professionals. More importantly, they have been equipped to cater to the healthcare needs of India.
Today’s convocation is special as it is being held in the Golden Jubilee year of UCMS. My compliments to the present and past administrations and the staff of this prestigious institution for pursuing excellence in medicine for the last 50 years. May you continue to excel in education and research in the coming decades too!
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of a robust, accessible and affordable health care system. The formidable fight India has put up against the pandemic is a testimony to the resilience of our people in general and the selfless service rendered by all the doctors, healthcare personnel and other frontline workers in particular. Our scientists and vaccine manufacturers need special appreciation for rising to the occasion and ensuring the availability of vaccines to millions of Indians.
Sisters and Brothers,
Various health indices have improved considerably in the country since Independence. Life expectancy at birth has increased, infant and maternal mortality have greatly reduced. Diseases such as smallpox and polio have been eradicated, while leprosy is close to being eliminated. As per the latest available data, MMR has seen a steep decline in recent years, falling from 130 per one lakh births in 2014-16 to 113 in 2016-18. With Prime Minister, Shri Narendrabhai Modi calling to make India TB-free by 2025, five years ahead of the global target of 2030, we have been making steady progress in reducing the incidence of the disease.
There has also been a significant increase in the coverage of immunization through the Universal Immunization Programme.
While these are laudable achievements, we still have many challenges that require a coordinated and concerted approach by both the government and the private sector. These challenges pertain to low public investment, inadequate infrastructure in rural areas when compared to cities and towns, shortage of doctors, nurses and trained healthcare workers and prevention of non-communicable diseases.
There is also the problem of high out-of-pocket expenditure, which adversely affects the low-income households that face the risk of being pushed to poverty. It would be pertinent here to point out that the government’s flagship scheme, Ayushman Bharat’ has brought ‘health assurance’ to many poor families for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. With a cover of up to ₹5 lakh per family per year, it has covered more than 2 crore hospitalizations since the launch of the scheme.
Sisters and brothers,
The goal of universal and assured healthcare for all is difficult, but with determined efforts, we can achieve it. The first step to achieve the goal of ‘Health for All’ is to increase public spending on health. The 15th Finance Commission has recommended that states should increase spending on health to more than 8% of their respective budgets by 2022 and the public health expenditure of the Centre and States together should be increased in a progressive manner to reach 2.5 percent of GDP by 2025.
As mentioned earlier, the shortage of trained human resources in healthcare needs to be addressed on a war footing. India has a low doctor to population ratio, at 1:1,511 against the WHO norm of 1:1,000. While there are more than 540 medical colleges in the country, we need to establish more of them, both in the government and private sectors. At the same time, we need to ensure that the quality of medical education is not compromised and high standards are maintained. The Prime Minister, Shri Naendrabhai Modi has already declared the government’s intention of setting up one medical college and hospital in every district of the country.
Unfortunately, there is also a paucity of paramedical staff - nursing professionals, midwives, medical technicians, among others. We have a nurse to population ratio of 1:670, falling short of the WHO norm of 1:300. We need to correct this situation in a mission mode.
In view of the shortage of manpower in the rural areas, I had suggested the need to make rural service mandatory before giving the first promotion to young government doctors. By establishing more state-of-the-art hospitals, better incentives, and improving housing and infrastructure for the medical community, we need to attract more doctors to the rural areas.
Sisters and brothers,
While focusing on the need to turn out more doctors, we must not forget the critical role of trained paramedical personnel in saving lives. The importance of the service they render came to the fore during the pandemic as they worked tirelessly over the past year.
Indian nurses and paramedical staff have earned a great reputation globally over the years with their skills, dedication and caring nature. The need of the hour is to leverage this innate skill among our youth to train more allied healthcare workers and assign a larger role for them in our public health.
The 15th Finance Commission has recommended allocating more than Rs 13,000 crore for the training of allied healthcare workers. This is expected to create an additional 15 lakh workforce. Universities such as yours need to offer more short-term diploma courses for paramedics.
While seeking to improve the physical infrastructure and the manpower, we also need to innovate to provide optimum healthcare within the available infrastructure to one and all.
For instance, eHealth or ‘digital health’ has come up in a big way in recent years. Using these services, people in rural and remote areas can consult and interact with a doctor in a virtual or telephonic mode. This will also mitigate the problem of paucity of doctors in rural areas. eHealth can also empower women and bring about much-needed awareness on maternal health and other issues.
The Ministry of Health has brought out many e-Health initiatives in recent years such as National Health Portal, e-Hospital, Mera Aspatal and a variety of mobile applications such as mCessation, mDiabetes and Kilkari.
While these efforts are in the right direction, we need to further popularize and scale-up e-health initiatives. With increasing internet and smartphone penetration in rural areas, e-health is the way forward for the optimum use of our human resources in healthcare. While India is going through a digital revolution, we must capitalize on it and bring about a revolution in healthcare.
On a similar note, the idea of ‘digitized health records’ will save the hassle of paperwork for people and bring about a smooth and seamless experience during hospital visits. The Prime Minister is expected to launch the Pradhan Mantri Digital Health Mission in a few days. A unique digital health ID will be provided to the people, which will contain all the health records of the person. While ensuring the safety and privacy of health data, this digitization will greatly help to monitor diseases and enable quicker decision-making. This is a commendable initiative and should be rolled out in all states soon.
The COVID-19 crisis is far from over. India is implementing the world’s largest vaccination drive and the aim is to complete the vaccination for all eligible people at the earliest. Civic groups must join hands with the local governments and encourage people to get vaccinated. There is also a need to dispel fears and false beliefs on vaccination and the media must take the lead in educating people and creating awareness on the safety of vaccines. It is also important to follow COVID protocols with utmost seriousness. We cannot be complacent and invite a third wave.
Finally, I would like to compliment UCMS for its contribution to medical education. UCMS and the associated Guru Teg Bahadur hospital have also been rendering a great service in the management of the COVID 19 crisis over the past year. I am told that a newly set up ICMR-recognized virology research & diagnostic laboratory has already performed almost 38,000 RTPCR Tests for Covid detection so far.
I compliment the administration for these achievements and urge them to carry the same spirit of excellence in the coming years.
Once again, my best wishes to the students, parents and the teachers for their tireless efforts, which culminated in today’s momentous ceremony. My best wishes for your future endeavors!