Among the things that the AIADMK government headed by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa can be proud of in the 100 days since it took power, are significant announcements in the health care sector: increased coverage under the health insurance scheme, a new multi-specialty hospital and a new medical college.

Doing away with the old public health insurance scheme in Tamil Nadu, a new scheme was announced: enhancing the coverage for families below poverty line to Rs. 4 lakh for four years per family, at the rate of Rs. 1 lakh per year. In the case of certain conditions, this could also go up to Rs. 1.50 lakh. The previous regime allotted Rs. 1 lakh per family for four years.

Additionally, the new scheme now provides for medical insurance cover to be extended to 950 medical conditions as against 642 earlier. It also ambitiously envisages covering treatment costs, hospitalisation expenses and investigations. A sum of Rs. 150 crore was allotted in the revised budget to fund the scheme initially.

Putting paid to rumour and speculation about whether the new building in Omandurar Estate would be put to use, the Chief Minister announced on the floor of the House last week that it would be converted for use as a multi super-specialty hospital, and that the adjacent premises, Block B, would become a medical college.

This has evoked a lot of positive response from the citizens and medical professionals, who feel that the hospital bed crunch in the city may be alleviated by the construction of this new building. As for the college, there has always been a clamour for more medical seats, with the cut-off increasing every year in Tamil Nadu.

One more super-specialty centre will be established at Annal Gandhi Government Hospital, Tiruchi, it was announced in the budget.

From the public health point of view, the government's commitment to focus on the improvement of primary health care units in urban areas comes as a welcome move. Developing infrastructure and diagnostics is also on the cards at district hospitals throughout the State.

A new Food and Drug Safety department would be hived off from the existing health department. This will, hopefully, ensure better adherence to guidelines in terms of hygiene and sanitation, and permissible levels in food products.

The move to provide sanitary napkins entirely free of cost to rural girls through the ICDS network and village health nurses, has also been welcomed by those in the sanitation sector. A sum of Rs. 46 crore has been provided in the budget for this purpose.