The proposal for an urban health initiative with focus on primary health care for the urban poor has been cleared by the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) and will soon be placed before the Cabinet.

This was announced by Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad during a meeting of the Mission Steering Group of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) here on Tuesday.

There has been an on-going tussle between the Health Ministry and the Planning Commission, with the latter approving a National Health Mission which would subsume the NRHM under it, while the former has been pushing for a separate urban health mission for the urban poor. The Ministry had agreed that the two would be combined subsequently, but the 12th Plan has approved the National Health Mission.

Tuesday’s meeting had been convened to take a policy call on several issues of crucial importance in the 12th Plan. Mr. Azad said the Plan document approved by the Cabinet provided for a substantial jump in the plan outlay giving a central position to health.

Considering that public expenditure on health in India is one of the lowest in the world and disease burden is the highest, the increase in Plan outlay is a timely and welcome beginning, he said.

The Minister said another important step in the 12th Plan was the move to simplify and rationalise funding to States and to provide them with the much needed flexibility to prioritise and devise strategies that meet their needs. It was planned to provide the same flexibility under the Disease Control Programmes as existed in the Reproductive and Child Health Flexi-pool and Mission Flexi-pool.

According to Mr. Azad, a great distance has been covered during the 11th Plan period, resulting in tremendous addition of infrastructure, as well as human resources, but there still remain several areas of concern.

Under the NRHM, the Minister said, several thrust areas had been identified for implementation in the 12th Plan. These included strengthening Health Sub Centres to develop them as first ports of call for health care, strengthening District Hospitals to provide advanced level of secondary health care within the district itself and developing District Hospitals as knowledge centres.

“The government is also moving towards Universal Health Care. We have launched Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram to provide free care to pregnant women and neonates. Now, we intend to provide free essential medicines in all public health facilities and universal screening of children for disease, disability and deficiency with free follow-up treatments, including those in tertiary public health facilities,” he added.

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