Wednesday, February 06, 2008



Addressing the plenary meeting of the 60th World Health Assembly in Geneva on 16th May, 2007, the Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) needs to develop the capacities of many countries to participate in the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regime and reap its benefits. He said there are valid reservations on whether or not the IPR regime will lead to innovations in so far as neglected and tropical diseases are concerned. Ms Jane Halton, President, World Health Assembly and Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, WHO were also present on the occasion.

The following is the text of the Minister’s speech:

It is indeed a pleasure for me to address the WHA once again. Last year I also had the privilege of chairing the proceedings of Committee-A. This provided me with a deep insight into the wide gamut of issues placed before the World Health Assembly. While it was no doubt enlightening for me to participate in these deliberations I cannot but help suggesting that WHO needs to progressively assume a more proactive role on global health issues rather than on advocating remedial measures after events have taken place. In particular WHO can be a bridge between developed and developing countries on issues relating to human resources, technology transfers, building consensus as well as capacities on emerging issues such as Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health. There is also a case for a fresh look on the representation of developing countries like India and China on different WHO fora considering their population size and share of global disease burden.

The theme adopted by the 60th WHA, “Health Security” is of great interest to all of us. The global threat of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases has been demonstrated by the emergence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the 1980s, Avian Influenza H5N1 in Hong Kong originally seen in 1997 and continuing through today and a global epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. No country is immune to the occurrence of these diseases. It is therefore altogether appropriate for the WHA to focus on health security.

Development issues including health, nutrition, drinking water, education are today at the forefront of world politics. Health, as we all know is fundamental to social and economic development. The Millennium Development Goals 2015 are less than a decade away and most countries are feeling the pressure from all stakeholders to design policies which accelerate the achievement of the goals as per schedule.

In India, the state supported public health delivery system is being comprehensively rejuvenated under the National Rural Health Mission which is the biggest and most ambitious programme in the health sector ever in India. The National Rural Health Mission which is a convergence of health, nutrition, sanitation and drinking water, seeks to provide accessible, affordable and accountable quality health services specially to the poorest households in the remotest rural regions, focusing on reducing IMR and MMR. The thrust of NRHM is on establishing a fully functional, community owned, decentralized health delivery system with inter sectoral convergence at all levels. Quality care through adoption of the Indian Public Health Standards, focus on outcomes and adoption of evidence based strategies are some of the other salient features of NRHM.

We realize the need to target programmes for our women and children. We are going for major capacity building initiatives both for human and physical resources to ensure nutritional adequacy, deliveries at institutions and by skilled birth attendants, referral transport and emergency obstetric care. The Janani Suraksha Yojana, a path breaking programme for cash support for institutional deliveries, has had an overwhelming response.

Newborn and child health strategies range from the integrated management of neonatal and childhood illnesses, immunisation strategies, including this year, a US$300 million polio eradication programme and the recently launched Norway-India partnership initiative.

We have more than 400,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) who are empowered village women forming a link between the government and our clients for better service delivery.

The double burden of diseases experienced by a large number of low and middle income countries of the world has made it necessary for these countries to initiate mechanisms for effective prevention and control mechanisms.

The initiatives taken by us in addressing communicable diseases have given dividends. The progress made by the various national programs for control and elimination of TB, Malaria, Leprosy, HIV/AIDS are noteworthy.

A national program for prevention and control of Non Communicable Diseases like Diabetes, Cardiovascular diseases and stroke has been initiated. Taking care of the elderly population, a national programme for the care of elderly is also on the anvil. Issues of emergency and trauma care are being taken as priority areas.

The consumption of tobacco is also a major cause of morbidity. The global community is slowly recognizing the threat of the tobacco epidemic and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is an important step in this direction. India, one of the first signatories of the FCTC, is in the process of launching a National programme on Tobacco Control. An anti-tobacco law was enacted as far back as 2003 and rules have been enacted banning smoking in public places; direct and indirect advertisements and sale of tobacco products to minors.

India is a key participant in the WHO supported Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI) and we are actively engaged in developing surveillance systems, building capacities of key stakeholders, undertaking advocacy measures and intensifying training programmes to combat consumption of tobacco. A Tobacco Regulatory Authority is on the anvil which will make recommendations on tobacco taxation policy, advertising, anti-smuggling measures, enforcement of the Act as well as on other measures both for disease prevention as well as prevalence reduction.

I believe that in the new Millennium the future of the health sector is going to be in substantial measure determined by the quality and availability of human resources; the spirit of innovation and enterprise, which alone will find cost effective solutions to seemingly intractable problems and by technological advancements in information technology as well as biotechnology. There are issues relating to migration of qualified health work force, which are leaving gaps within the exiting infrastructure and services, both within and outside the public sector.

The WHO needs to help the affected countries to address contributing factors to human resource shortages. The Intellectual Property Rights regime is both an opportunity as well as a challenge before the Member States. There are valid reservations on whether or not the IPR regime will lead to innovations in so far as neglected and tropical diseases are concerned. Similarly access and pricing of essential drugs is indeed a matter of concern.

The WHO will need to develop the capacities of many countries to participate in the IPR regime and reap its benefits.

Finally technology and technological advancements cannot be wished away and must in fact be relied upon to provide solutions to improve health care systems, both technical as well as managerial.

From some perspective I can say that if the Information Technology Industry was responsible for the present growth of India, then the future of India lies in the growth of the bio-medical industry. The WHO needs to position itself as the harbinger of technology to nations.

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