Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the opportunity of the 25th Foundation Day of Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences to emphasise that “advancements nations make in the health sector will matter more than ever before.”
The Prime Minister addressed the event at the University in the Karnataka state capital Bengaluru via video. During his address, he spoke at length about the pandemic of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), commonly referred to simply as the coronavirus. Modi referred to the pandemic as “one of the biggest crisis [sic] since the two world wars.” As such, he said, “like the world changed pre and post-World Wars, the same way the pre- and post-COVID-world will be different.”
Modi used his address to discuss the “four pillars” of India’s health sector agenda, which he previously outlined at last year’s United Nations meeting on Universal Health Coverage. The four pillars consist of “preventative healthcare”, “affordable healthcare”, “improvements on the supply side” and “mission mode implementation.”
During his speech to the University, Modi touted the progress made under the four pillars, from establishing “more than forty thousand wellness centres…where a key focus is on controlling life-style related diseases” to progress made under flagship healthcare schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the National Nutrition Mission, and Mission Idradhanush to strides made under medical education.
Along these lines, Modi said that “advancements nations make in the health sector will matter more than ever before.” He outlined “three things on which I would urge maximum discussion and participation.”
The first pillar, Modi said, is telehealth. Such services are gaining in popularity and utility during the pandemic, being of particular importance to maintaining continuity of care for those facing loss of access to therapy due to physical distancing measures. “Can we think of new models that make tele-medicine popular on a larger scale?” Modi asked.
Modi also spotlighted the importance of domestic manufacturing, stating “the other is related to ‘Make in India’ in the health sector.” Domestic manufacturing was a bone of contention during the early days of the crisis. For example, some commentators and industry voices argued that the initial stages of the pandemic underscored the vulnerability engendered by India’s reliance on China for active pharmaceutical ingredients, which sparked fears of drug shortages. There were also numerous concerns expressed concerning the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.
Of domestic manufacturing of PPE, Modi said “the initial gains make me optimistic. Our domestic manufacturers have started production of PPEs and have supplied about one crore PPEs to Covid warriors. Similarly, we have supplied 1.2 crore ‘Make in India’ N-95 masks to all states.”
Finally, Modi said “IT-related tools for healthier societies. I am sure you have the Aarogya Setu app on your Mobiles. Twelve crore health-conscious people have downloaded it. This has been very helpful in the fight against coronavirus.” Aarogya Setu is an app designed to enable contact tracing. Its use is part of a broader push for digital health in India, of which telehealth is also a part. This trend is perhaps best-exemplified by the digital health blueprint announced last year by Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.
Modi used his remarks to thank medical personnel. “At the root of India’s brave fight against COVID-19 is the hard-work of the medical community and our corona warriors,” he said. “In fact, doctors and medical workers are like soldiers, but without the soldiers’ uniform. The virus may be an invisible enemy, but our corona warriors, medical workers are invincible. In the battle of Invisible versus Invincible, our medical workers are sure to win. Friends, earlier, the debates on globalisation have focused on economic issues. Now, the world must unite and focus on humanity centric aspects of development.”