United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Friday inaugurated the first postgraduate medical institute in northeast India here and stressed the need for an urban health programme like the government's flagship rural health scheme.

The North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute for Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) in the Meghalaya capital has been designed in line with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, and Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh.

“With the inauguration of the medical institute, an important aspect of late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's vision has been fulfilled,” Sonia Gandhi said at the inauguration.

“The institute was conceived as a centre of excellence in healthcare which will have the best of health services facilities in eastern India.”

“Besides treatment and providing numerous health services, the institute would play an important role in research and development,” the Congress president said.

“The UPA government has given special attention to all-round development of northeast India.”

The NEIGRIHMS, an autonomous institute established by Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has a sophisticated cardiology department, well-equipped neurology and urology departments and a 30-bed intensive care unit (ICU).

The institute, conceived by Rajiv Gandhi 23 years ago, has been functioning since 2002 first as an interim facility and later built a sprawling campus on the outskirts of Shillong at a cost of Rs.423 crore. It also plans to begin its telemedicine project soon.

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had declared NEIGRIMS a national institute on Jan 22, 2000, when he visited Shillong.

Sonia Gandhi also underscored the importance of initiating an urban healthcare programme on the lines of the government's flagship National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), particularly with cases of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and cancer on the rise.

“I strongly feel the need to launch a health programme in the urban areas which will be similar to the NRHM,” she said.

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) B.K. Handique, Meghalaya Chief Minister D.D. Lapang and Minister of State for Water Resources Vincent H. Pala were also present on the occasion.

Sonia Gandhi is also to lay the foundation stone for the Rajiv Gandhi Congress Bhavan here.

On Saturday, she will visit Mizoram capital, Aizawl, where she will lay the foundation stone of the Rajiv Gandhi sports stadium.

The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) is constructing the 20,000-seat stadium, the first such facility in the mountain state. The 12th Finance Commission had granted Rs.250 million for the Rs.1.32 billion project.