World Health Day 2019: Why India needs a Universal Health Coverage program

Around 2.4 million lives are lost to treatable conditions every year in India. Coronary artery disease (8.76 million people), stroke that can lead to brain injury or disability (6.24 million people) and lower respiratory infections by viruses and bacteria (3.19 million) are the three deadliest causes of deaths in the world according to World Health Organization.

Lifestyle choices and communicable diseases significantly affect the health and longevity of a person. In simple words, just being free of illness is not a sign of good health but being fit in all aspects signifies healthiness. To highlight this fact, 7th of April, in the year 1950 was declared World Health Day by the World Health Organisation. This annual day under WHO's leadership commemorates a comprehensive umbrella event that does not target a specific disease but raises awareness on the importance of overall health.

Over the years, WHO's work has persisted towards awareness campaigns and eradication of preventable diseases like smallpox and polio from the world. It is also on the verge of removing Rubella, mumps, measles (MMR), the highly infectious respiratory disease that has potentially severe to permanent complications and could prove fatal.

 World Health Day 2019: Why India needs a Universal Health Coverage program

The theme for World Health Day 2019 is Universal Health Coverage (UHC) for everyone, everywhere. Image courtesy: University of Michigan–Medical

World Health Day 2019 theme

This year’s nominated theme is Universal health coverage (UHC): everyone, everywhere. The campaign draws on two key areas of focus – providing good medical care despite economic hardships and accessibility – whenever and wherever. The essential feature of this coverage is to ensure quality health services to all communities and people.

Apart from that, it intends to provide people with a strong primary healthcare facility that focuses on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

Efforts towards healthcare for all in India

Poor quality of care and good healthcare have been a major reason for the humongous number of preventable deaths in India every year. To tackle this problem, over the last few years, the government has focused and introduced many healthcare schemes and projects.

Ayushman Bharat, launched in 2018, being the largest co-funded central and state government-funded program in the world is one such initiative. This program is in line with WHO’s UHC. Under this, the objective is to provide superior healthcare, wellness facilities, and insurance to rural and underprivileged people by offering an insurance cover of Rs 5 lakhs per family in a year. The allocation of funds for this scheme has been increased to Rs 6,400 crore for 2019-2020.

Mission Indradhanush is another vital program which aims to increase the immunization coverage by 90 percent and target children who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated in both urban and rural cities. Since 2014, Rotavirus vaccine, Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), Measles-Rubella (MR) vaccine, and JE vaccine for adults have been launched under this public health initiative.

Vaccination drives ensure that both the mother's and childrens' health is unaffected by preventable infectious diseases. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Vaccination drives ensure that both the mother's and childrens' health is unaffected by preventable infectious diseases. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Indian government is also taking vital steps in this direction and in this year’s interim budget raised their 2019 healthcare spending to $8.9 billion from $7.45 billion in 2018, making it a 13.6 percent increase year-on-year.

Challenges to good health in India

Though various governments in power have, over the years, implemented many health-related schemes, and even provided medical insurance to people below the poverty line, it has not avoided out-of-pocket expenses of the poorest strata of our society to meet their medical needs.

Moreover, India ranks the lowest in public health spending. Even countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan, which have a lower-income than our nation, spend more on healthcare for its citizens. The country’s spending on public health has increased (albeit, marginally) to 1.4 percent in 2016-17, as per the Budget allocation, but it was still 6 percent less than the global average.

Another significant challenge is the doctor-patient ratio in India. As per government data form 2017, for every 921 patients, India has one doctor, which makes the scenario for than a little concerning. Solutions like telemedicine for online consultations in real-time are one of many intended tools to bridge that gap. But, the challenge still remains, to provide these people with the necessary drugs and high-tech medical equipment, etc they may need to attend to their health at an affordable price.

Representational image.

Representational image.

The country is also facing severe issues related to contaminated drinking water and clean sanitation facilities that have put the lives of people at risk. These factors increase the chances of diseases and unreachable healthcare facilities only add to the problem.

Hence, for a country like India where there is a huge disparity and inaccessibility in the distribution of healthcare facilities, Universal health coverage is a must.

World Health Day may be celebrated annually, but for a country like India and the progress it needs in this crucial area, a single day isn't enough. It requires rigorous, constant work to provide UHC to all.

The various government programs that are currently implemented are a step in the right direction and more of these can help speed up the process. Therefore, on account of the World Health Day, as a citizen, let’s vow to participate and follow these small steps- conserving the environment, keeping the surroundings tidy, and reaching out to the health workers or doctors when in need.

The author is a senior consultant in the medical team at

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Updated Date: Apr 09, 2019 10:37:08 IST

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