Focus on COVID-19 related activities, continuing to provide essential services must to maintain people's trust in health system: Vardhan

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New Delhi, May 25 (PTI) Focusing on COVID-19 related activities and continuing to provide essential services are important not only to maintain people's trust in the health system but also to minimise any increase in morbidity and mortality from other health conditions, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Tuesday.

He made these remarks during a high-level virtual panel discussion on 'Continuity on Health Services during COVID-19 Crisis', according to a health ministry statement.

He appreciated Defeat-NCD Partnership at United Nations Institute for Training and Research for organising a 'call for action' session for countries on 'Uninterrupted Health Services for NCDs during the COVID-19 Crisis', the statement said.

The meeting was organised to ensure the continuity of health services to non-communicable disease (NCD) patients during the current humanitarian crisis. The Defeat-NCD Partnership was born out of the recognition that NCDs are now the major contributor to the global burden of disease, leading to mortality of at least 41 million people each year, the equivalent to 70 per cent of all deaths globally.

Vardhan reminded the world of the present existential crisis, the global threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to over 3.46 million deaths across the world. India too is facing the brunt of the second wave of the pandemic, he was quoted in the statement as saying.

He highlighted the importance of providing essential health services and the major impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the capacity of global health systems to continue the uninterrupted delivery of these services.

'While health systems around the world are being challenged by increasing demand for care of COVID-19 patients, the COVID-19 outbreak has placed unprecedented demands on our health systems. Our health facilities and workforce are currently inundated by a plethora of activities related to controlling the pandemic. In doing so, essential health services which communities expect from the health system, do get compromised,' he said. 'However, focusing on COVID-19 related activities, and continuing to provide essential services, is important not only to maintain people's trust in the health system to deliver essential health services but also to minimise any increase in morbidity and mortality from other health conditions,' he said.

Vardhan observed that to achieve universal health coverage and to reduce premature NCD deaths by one-third, health care systems need to radically transform. The Sustainable Development Goal mantra to, 'leave no one behind', underscores a broad public health approach and a call for action by all stakeholders. It is for this reason that world leaders, governments and stakeholders across all sectors of society are keenly viewing this meeting on continuing NCD care during challenging times such as the present, he said.

Accentuating the achievement of India's efforts on NCD front, Vardhan said while 70 per cent of global deaths are attributable to NCDs, in India this figure is estimated to be lower, around 63 per cent.

'We have been able to reduce premature NCD related mortalities from 503 to 490 per 100,000 population from 2015 to 2019. Various investments by the government have led to these reduced figures. Primary care NCDs is now being provided in 76,102 newly established Ayushman Bharat health and wellness centres. 'Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) have expanded the scope of primary healthcare to include screening and diagnosis of NCDs, and eliminated out-of-pocket expenses related to NCDs for 100 million vulnerable people,' he said.

India has been one of the first countries to launch a multi-sectoral action plan to reduce underlying NCD risk factors related to tobacco, salt and sugar, and uniquely targeted reduction of household pollution by replacing solid cooking fuel. This reduced chronic respiratory ailments among women, for example, through the provision of cooking gas to millions of rural households, Vardhan said.

Underscoring the need to apply innovative telemedicine technologies, he said that India is targeting to reduce premature deaths by 25 per cent by 2025, for which COVID-19 responses are being integrated with NCD screening and care, and IT and AI potential are being maximised. Government allocations for COVID-19 and other investments are being smartly dovetailed with our National NCD Action Plan. Vardhan stressed the need to adjust governance and coordination mechanisms to support timely action and prioritising essential health services to adapt to changing contexts and needs in the time. Showing way further to augment effective NCDs prevention and control, the Union Health Minister said, 'As public health leaders, we need to make a renewed commitment to fund public health and remove financial barriers to access as well as reprioritize and reprogram existing budgetary resources. The world has enough knowledge, capacity and even resources available to reverse the tide of NCDs, but collaboration will be crucial with shared idealism.' Nikhil Seth, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research; Dr David Nabarro, Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation and Special Envoy of WHO Director-General on COVID-19; Mukul Bhola, CEO, The Defeat-NCD Partnership, UNITAR; Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, Health Minister of The Gambia; Daniel Ngamije, Health Minister of Rwanda; Health Minister of Bhutan Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo; Bandar M.H. Hajjar, President of Islamic Development Bank; and Menassie Taddese, President of Emerging Markets, Viatris participated in the panel discussion. PTI PLB ZMN

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