The Tamil Nadu government will set up 60 primary health centres in urban areas in the State, Principal Secretary, Health, V.K. Subburaj, said on Tuesday.

While the State had invested a lot in primary health care in rural areas, urban centres had been rather neglected. To remedy the situation, the government had decided to set up 60 PHCs, normally located in only rural areas, in cities and towns too.

They would be established in urban locations with a population of less than a lakh initially, he said. They would start functioning within a month.

Mr. Subburaj was delivering the First Dr. N.S. Murali Memorial Lecture organised at the Voluntary Health Services campus here and hosted by the AIDS Prevention and Control Project.

Talking on ‘Emerging Public Health Challenges,' he set in perspective the agenda to energise the public health care set up for the nation.

Key challenges

Some of the key challenges included poor immunisation coverage, institutional deliveries, high rate of anaemia, resurgence of infections and viral diseases and non-communicable diseases, food adulteration, urban health and environmental issues.

Though vaccines were the cheapest means of prevention, it was unfortunate that the country had not been able to achieve good immunisation coverage. While the national average was a poor 50 per cent, there were States with just 30 per cent coverage, he added. Vaccines were available for 29 diseases, but currently only six diseases were being covered under the immunisation programme, he said. This had to be scaled up.

Despite the fact that the government had spent thousands of crores on creating infrastructure for reproductive child health, a number of women were still delivering at home. Tamil Nadu managed 99.8 per cent institutional deliveries and that was responsible for good human development parameters as well, he said.

Again, Tamil Nadu had a vibrant noon meal scheme to provide nutritious food to students but, despite this, the State had to grapple with anaemia and malnutrition.

While clearly the burden of non-communicable diseases posed a real threat, it was also important to keep tabs on emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, Malaria, HIV, H1N1, Chikungunya and various forms of flu.

Food and drug safety

The Centre had instructed all State governments to set up monitoring cells for food adulteration to take care of one of the big challenges to public health – food and drug safety, he said. In compliance with this, the State government would soon set up such facilities.

Mr. Subburaj inaugurated VHS's new department - CHARTERED (Community Health Alliance for Research, Empowerment and Resource Development) - on the occasion.

E.S. Krishnamoorthy, honorary secretary, VHS, said the department aimed at being a catalyst for public health delivery in the State and country. Several research projects would be taken up and collaborations with the government and other institutions were in the pipeline.

An endowment in the name of N.S. Murali was created. Contributions were welcome for the endowment, which would also fund research in public health, Dr. Krishnamoorthy added.

Uncommon approaches

M.S. Swaminathan, chairman, VHS, said N.S. Murali had uncommon approaches to issues and used unusual means to find solutions. He agreed that Tamil Nadu had shown enormous leadership in every aspect of health care, but added that the challenges would have to be carefully monitored.

C.V. Krishnaswamy, head, diabetes department, VHS, recalled his association with his friend, colleague and collaborator on the treatment for diabetic foot complications. N.S. Murali was an excellent surgeon who would treat all his patients, paying or non-paying, in the same manner.

R. Rajagopal, central committee member of VHS and close friend of N.S. Murali, said the latter's contributions to the cause of public health would be listed alongside that of the legendary founder of the VHS, K.S. Sanjivi.

Uma Ram, central committee member of VHS and daughter of N.S. Murali, said she and her brother Sandeep learnt surgical techniques from their father. During the last 15 years of his life, he had made substantial contributions to the battle against HIV/AIDS, through APAC.

Malini Balakrishnan, administrative officer (society), VHS, recalled the guidance and encouragement provided by N.S. Murali throughout his career at the VHS.