Calcutta, Aug. 16: The state government today launched a five-year 'reform and investment programme' in the health sector with a Rs 750-crore grant from the Department for International Development.
The programme, called Health Systems Development Initiative, will attempt improvements, particularly at the primary health level. Six relatively backward districts ' Malda, Purulia, Murshidabad, Birbhum, North and South Dinajpur ' will get priority treatment under the project.
'I thank the DFID for making us feel that as a friend in need you are a friend indeed' you have come to help the poor,' chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said at the project's launch here.
DFID will fund the project in phases. The government on its part has promised to monitor the programme's implementation. Suma Chakrabarti, the permanent secretary of DFID, UK, conceded that 'the biggest challenge is accountability'.'
But the DFID official expressed hope that there would be 'a lot of changes in healthcare when the programme is completed'.
For the government, one of the daunting tasks is to reach out to people in remote areas. 'We have to reach tribal areas like Jhargram, Purulia, Bankura. Also, we need to go to the people, instead of sitting in our health centres,' Bhattacharjee said.
'The state (healthcare system) caters to 70 per cent of Bengal's population and almost 90 per cent in the villages....There is need for money and human resources.'
Bhattacharjee said the government had also discussed the need for improvement in the health sector with the World Bank, with whose support the five-year programme could be made stronger.
A key thrust area in the project would be to 'reduce the level of absenteeism, among the frontline and health staff by 50 per cent over the next five years'.
The project will also focus on problems like high infant and maternal mortality rates and try to scale down the count by a third.
It will also increase the reach of immunisation programmes, help remove vacancies in critical areas, improve quality of care and provide health insurance schemes for the poor.
Earlier, Bhattacharjee met Chakrabarti at Writers' Buildings. He said: 'We discussed the ongoing programmes and a few new areas.' Mentioning a restructuring programme, which has already been initiated, he assured that 'the attitude of workers will not be a constraint in the restructuring programme'.