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Straying Shotgun changes spots

New Delhi, Jan. 7: Health minister Shatrughan Sinha is turning out to be an obedient pupil, at least when it comes to taking lessons from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Acting on suggestions from PMO official Sudheendra Kulkarni, Sinha has petitioned Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for additional funds so that he can start some health projects.

He has listed 30-odd schemes but not specified the money his ministry would need to put these into effect. Instead, Sinha has assured Vajpayee his ministry officials would work out the financial details once he agrees to release the funds.

The idea of putting forward a package of health projects came from Kulkarni after Sinha faced a barrage of criticism for his non-performance and indifferent functioning.

Kulkarni gave several proposals and exhorted Sinha to put these into effect to carve out a niche for himself in the health and family welfare ministry just as he had done in Bollywood.

Sinha promptly asked the department heads of his ministry to jot down the focal points of their “vision” for a health policy. Once this was done, he put the suggestions together and sent them to Vajpayee.

The schemes closely follow Kulkarni’s remedies for toning up an ailing health system.

For instance, Kulkarni had recommended setting up a medical college in each of the backward states. Sinha too suggests the same. “We intend to set up at least one medical college in rural areas in each state to improve the availability of medical facilities in such areas.”

On Kulkarni’s suggestion to set up medical institutes of excellence, Sinha says: “In order to achieve excellence in the field of medical education and research, we propose to set up medical colleges and hospitals in Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Chennai and Nagpur. These should have the standard of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).”

Taking a cue again from Kulkarni’s suggestion that the health ministry should popularise Indian systems of medicine (ISM), Sinha says: “We intend to involve physicians in the ISM in a manner that they can be posted in public health centres. Short duration training courses can be arranged for them...”

Last year, Vajpayee had launched a pilot scheme called “Home Remedies Kit”, based on Indian system of medicine. “This scheme should be extended to the entire country, particularly in the under-served and neglected areas,” Sinha emphasises.

There is only one original idea that reflects the commitment Sinha had made the day he took charge of his ministry. “We propose to start evening OPDs (outpatient departments) in Central government hospitals and AIIMS,” he says.

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