Wednesday 25 May 2022
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Private sector needed for better health

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I told a multilateral forum of health ministers, officials, professionals, NGO heads and United Nations functionaries in Washington yesterday that governments should actively involve private sector corporations in ending preventable deaths from happening in their respective countries.

By roping in private entities, governments would benefit much from innovative managerial and inputs that they often fail to marshal. Their financial contribution would also add muscle to national health expenditure budgets.

I highlighted in this context the recent framing of the Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility) Rules, 2014 which makes it mandatory for public and private business houses to earmark 2 percent of their post-tax profits for CSR projects.

I think it makes sound business sense for companies to earmark the greatest chunk of their CSR budgets for the goal of saving lives. Their contribution could help reach targets of ending deaths at birth far ahead of government-set deadlines. They could also support endeavours to fighting diseases and finding the right cures. And why not? They would create bigger markets for their products and services in the process. Governments should guide companies to channel their CSR funds to the right beneficiaries.

I pointed out that a $5 increase in per capita health expenditure between now and 2035 in 74 countries could result in saving 147 million child lives, 32 million still births and 5 million maternal deaths at birth.

A strong votary of insurance coverage for all, I urged fellow health officials from 24 countries to evolve and implement strategies for universal health coverage to ensure that mothers and have access to quality preventive, positive, curative and rehabilitation health services.

There should be minimum out of pocket expenditure. If you underwrite their spending on medicines and care, then it won’t be long before you plough the money back through taxes because once freed from the burden of medical bills they will make other purchases which would have the effect of buoying up the economy.

The meeting, held under the theme “Acting on the call—ending preventable child and maternal deaths”, was co-hosted by India, the United States, Ethiopia and UNICEF. Exactly two years ago, the first such meet was held but the rallying call then was “Call to action”.

I said that the power of believing should not be under-estimated because mankind today is backed up by the necessary tools.

What is needed first is the belief that we can end and not merely reduce, preventable deaths. We must provide the leadership to instill this vision in the minds and hearts of other leaders, millions of healthcare providers and in the minds and hearts of the men, women, young people and we seek to serve. Our belief must catalyze widespread commitment that will accelerate action.

I stated that government efforts worldwide have rendered possible the setting of a target date for achieving an end to preventable child and maternal deaths – 2035. Given the right resources, it would be possible to save the lives of additional 15 million and 600,000 mothers annually by 2020.

Our emphasis is on ending, not simply cutting down the rate. When in the mid-1990s I conceived the pulse polio project in India, I was scoffed at for dreaming up the impossible because the state of logistics was then quite backward. But I believe in the power of belief. Let us not underestimate it because it has been the force behind India becoming polio free.

I got the opportunity to interact with my peers from other member countries. Over the past two days I had fruitful talks with the Special of the United Nations Secretary General, officials of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI, the head of USAID, Dr Rajiv Shah, among others.

The writer is India’s Minister for Health. He is presently on a 5-day visit to the United States

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