August 02, 2020
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Dr Harshvardhan, 59

Health minister 4/10; Succeeded by Jagat Prakash Nadda in November

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Dr Harshvardhan, 59

Although he said sex education in schools should be banned and fidelity in marriage prevents AIDS, Dr Harshvardhan, an ENT surgeon with a clean track record, was proactive in introducing policies to strengthen the health sector. Within five months, however, he was shifted to the ministry of science and technology. Curiously, the Modi sarkar found his successor in J.P. Nadda, who, while angling for the presidentship of the BJP, which eventually went to Amit Shah, had campaigned for the ouster of AIIMS whistle-blower, chief vigilance officer Sanjeev Chaturvedi

Nadda, on his part, proclaimed in one of his 11 tweets that his commitment was “to continue the fight against AIDS”. This promise came soon after the Modi government pulled out Rs 500 crore from the National AIDS Control Programme, one-third of its budget, to fund the PM’s pet project, the Swachh Bharat mission. The decision to pull out funds came despite the worst ever crisis faced by the AIDS programme in 20 years of its existence. Widespread stock shortages of antiretroviral drugs, distributed free of cost to thousands afflicted with HIV in the initial stages, are a result of delayed tender approval and poor coordination in a government that prides itself on cutting red tape.

The health ministry has also succumbed to pressure from western lobbies to weaken India’s stringent intellectual property rules, which now allow for the production and export of cheap, good quality, generic drugs to over 19 countries across the developing world. The constitution of a new ‘Intellectual Property Think Tank’, experts from the international medical humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) say, is an attempt to dilute patent laws and allow international pharma companies to sell expensive drugs in the Indian market. “Except for the think-tank’s chair, Justice (retd) Prabha Sridevan, the other five members are advocates and representatives of industry and pharma companies who want the Indian patent law diluted,” says Leena Menghaney of MSF.

That apart, the National Health Assurance Mission, which is on the cards, is likely to introduce the insurance model of healthcare which senior health economists at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) say is a move to benefit private players, who will take adv­antage of government-created infrastructure, instead of spending the money directly to strengthen public healthcare machinery. While the mission seeks to provide 50 essential medicines free of cost, experts say this is mere eyewash as several states are already providing all 348 medicines in the list of essential medicines free of cost. The one positive move, however, has been the promotion of a much simpler treatment protocol for kala azar, which will now take only two hours.

@drharshvardhan | 802 tweets | 4,080 followers

“After 67 years, India finally has a policy on Mental Health with an action plan. Feel satisfied to release it today. Pray things change now.”

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