| Manmohan Singh
New Delhi, March 28: In a bid to end years of neglect of public health, the government and the private sector today jointly launched the Public Health Foundation of India to scale up education and research in community and preventive medicine.
With private donor funds of about Rs 165 crore and significant funding expected from the government, the foundation will set up five Indian Institutes of Public Health in different regions and scale up capacities in existing institutions.
Speaking at the launch, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the public health foundation would bridge a major gap in health education in India by training professionals across disciplines such as health, economics, demography, sociology and environment.
“We have good quality human resources in clinical management, but we woefully lack public health managers,” Singh said. “We need to develop a new breed of professionals who are managers of healthcare, and not just of diseases,” he said.
Singh said the healthcare management in India has overly focused hitherto on clinical management of diseases and ignored the larger social and economical context in which health is best managed.
Health activists in India have complained and government officials have acknowledged that while India has excellent doctors, public health ' which deals with the social and preventive aspects of medicine ' has long been neglected.
The foundation has emerged following a two-year effort by Rajat Gupta, senior partner worldwide, McKinsey and Co, Dr Srinath Reddy, head of cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, and the health ministry.
“This initiative is designed to target gaps in education and public health research,” Reddy said. “Our existing public health schools have only doctors training doctors. The social determinants of health remain neglected.”
The institutions under the public health foundation would create the capacity to train up to 10,000 people each year in public health through a combination of short-term and long-term courses. They are expected to stimulate a demand for public health professionals in the country. The foundation also hopes to shape policy through research in relevant areas of community and preventive health.
The private donors for this foundation are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Amita and Purnendu Chatterjee, AKM Systems, HCL, Ranbaxy, Rohini Nilekani, The Deshpande Foundation, The Nand and Jeet Khemka Foundation and Vinod and Neeru Khosla.
Health officials said a renewed focus on public health was long overdue in India. “We should have done this 10 years ago,” said Sujatha Rao, additional secretary in the health ministry. Public health has traditionally focused on disease prevention.
“Healthcare is expensive and India cannot afford the corporate-hospital traject- ory. We need to have a public health approach,” Rao said.