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Council floats health plan

Guwahati, Jan. 7: The National Advisory Council has recommended a distinct health plan for the Northeast.

The council said though special provisions under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) have yielded many positive outcomes across the region, yet health coverage remains far from satisfactory as evident from the wide inequities and deficiencies in access to good quality healthcare.

The aim of the plan is to enhance outreach and delivery of services with additional manpower both in terms of medical professionals as well as other service providers and lay emphasis on use of technology and innovative methods to provide healthcare.

The task of the council, whose chairperson is Sonia Gandhi, is to provide inputs in the formulation of government policies and provide support to the government in its legislative activities. It recommended that the ministry of health and family welfare after time-bound consultations with all the Northeastern states, NEC and DoNER ministry prepare a separate plan for the region.

“The implementation of the plan needs to be closely monitored by the NEC as well as DoNER ministry. It is suggested that a review mechanism be put in place at the NEC secretariat, which will monitor the progress on a quarterly basis,” it said.

There is a separate division in the ministry of health and family welfare to address the health needs of people of the Northeast and a scheme for forward linkages to NRHM, which provides crucial funding to the states for the creation and upgrade of secondary and tertiary healthcare facilities.

On providing greater reach of health services, it said telemedicine centres as originally planned by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for the region should be made fully functional within a specified period and capacity building of staff ensured.

It said ministry of health and family welfare should also plan for a telemedicine grid for the region in consultation with ISRO and ensure linking up with premier health institutes outside the region as well. It encouraged the states to come up with innovative mechanisms to provide mobile medical services with basic diagnostic equipment to remote parts of the region and expand the network of mobile medical units to cover under-served populations.

“The reach of 108 ambulance services should be extended to cover the entire population of the region. To achieve this coverage, it might be necessary for the Centre under the NRHM to continue sharing 50 per cent of the operational expenditures beyond the third year,” it said.

Under the present arrangement, NRHM covers 60 per cent of costs in the first year, 40 per cent in the second year and 20 per cent in the third year. After which the entire cost has to be borne by the state governments.

On admissions to medical courses, the government should consider allocating an additional 5 per cent of admissions in the medical colleges to candidates from the region in order to address the problem of seats falling vacant after admission on account of migration by selected candidates to states outside the region.

“In addition, virtual classrooms should be allowed at the undergraduate level in medical colleges to benefit from specialist faculty who may not otherwise be physically present. Both these measures are likely to address the shortage of trained faculty in the region,” it said. It has also asked both central and state governments to extend appropriate financial and non-financial incentives to medical professionals to serve in the region.