Here is the full text of the speech delivered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Polio Summit, in New Delhi on February 25, 2012.

I would like to extend a very warm welcome to each one of our participants who have gathered here today from within India and from all over the world to join us for this unique event the Polio Summit. The Government of India has coordinated a massive effort to rid our country of the terrible scourge of Polio that has scarred the lives of thousands of thousand of children in India and elsewhere in the world. So it is a matter of satisfaction that we have completed one year without any single new case of polio being reported from anywhere in the country. This gives us hope that we can finally eradicate polio not only from India but from the face of the entire mother earth.

The success of our efforts shows that teamwork pays. The Central Government and the States Governments have worked in close partnership with many community base, national level and international organizations and groups including the Rotary International, the World Health Organization and UNICEF. But I venture to say that the real credit goes to the 23 lakh volunteers who repeatedly vaccinated children even in the most remote areas, often in very bad weather conditions. I commend each one of them for their dedication, for their commitment and for their selfless service.

Our ultimate objective is and as it must be to achieve full immunization for all our children. We must ensure that every Indian child, rich or poor, whether living in Ladakh or in Delhi has equal access to the best immunization. To this ambitious task I commit our government.

Universal access to safe vaccines, however, is only one of the many strategies for preventing and control of diseases and promoting good health among our children. We also need to provide them nutritious food, safe drinking water, proper sanitation and education. Nutrition especially for women and children is essential for community health. Sanitation and safe drinking water are pre-requisites for better absorption of food and prevention of infant and child mortality. But above all, we need to educate our children and our mothers on the importance of hygiene and nutrition to overall good health and longevity.

We are taking urgent measures to address these challenges. The National Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges is spearheading our efforts to address the challenge of malnutrition. The Total Sanitation Campaign aims to eradicate the practice of open defecation by 2017. We are moving towards the creation of Public Health Cadres to work for the prevention and the control of disease. It will be our effort to ensure that every village has access to safe drinking water. The Right to Education Act is in place and we have made considerable progress in universalisation of elementary education. However, going forward we have to give proper attention to issues such as bridging social and gender gaps in school enrolment, adult literacy particularly of women and the need to improve learning outcomes.

Reduction of infant and maternal mortality rates and population stabilization are among the core health goals of our national programme, National Rural Health Mission. Some states in the Union have already reached the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. This agenda however remains a challenge in many of the other states. We need to, in a mission mode, focus on these states and deploy more human, financial and managerial resources to improve their health status. This was what was done in the last three years under the polio campaign.

On a broader level, we need to accelerate our efforts to achieve our goal of providing universal access to health care at affordable cost for all our citizens. This needs first and foremost a determined effort to strengthen our public health systems. The National Rural Health Mission aims to develop the basic rural health infrastructure including through greater investments, community participation and optimisation of manpower and resources.

As the country enters a demographic and epidemiological transition, we need to focus more attention on non communicable diseases and a wider range of infectious diseases. The task of prevention of trauma through prompt and effective emergency care has also acquired great urgency. About 10% of our mortality is now due to trauma which is claiming many young lives.

The rising cost of health care is another key challenge. The impact of high medical costs places an unconscionable burden on the poor. We are, therefore focusing our attention towards social security of the poor with regard to their health care.

The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana provides insurance cover today to over 2.67 crore poor families. However, two thirds of private healthcare expenditure is on out-patient and diagnostic care and for purchase of medicines. Insurance schemes generally tend to focus on in-patient cares. We therefore need to work towards hassle free and cashless outpatient care in our public hospitals.

Thanks to our sustained high growth rates in recent years, we have been able to provide the higher levels of public investment needed in the health sector. Public expenditure on health has increased from less than 1% of our GDP in 2006-07 to an estimated 1.4% of GDP by the end of the Eleventh Five year Plan. But we will need to work harder and do more if we have to reach our goal of increasing public expenditure on health to at least 2.5% of the GDP. Education and health will be the key priorities of the Twelfth Five Year Plan.

More money for health must also result in more health for the money. Beyond investments, we, therefore need greater capacities for decentralized health care planning and management. This will require greater focus on human resource development as well as on technological innovation and information systems that can support such decentralization. These are the challenges for the future. Building capacities in our 600 odd districts and states of the union is one important area where the sustained support and partnership of all stakeholders will be vital in terms of health outcome.

Just as the polio campaign saw the Central and State Governments working closely with a common purpose, I am confident that the vision of universal health care will unite all of us in a concerted effort to preserve, to protect and promote the health of all our people.

Courtesy: PMO website

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