The new and comprehensive Kerala Public Health Bill, 2023, unifying the provisions in the Madras Public Health Act, 1939 and the Travancore-Cochin Public Health Act, 1955 was passed by the Assembly on Tuesday.
However, amidst the ongoing tussle and war of words between the government and the Opposition in the Assembly, the final Bill approved by the 15-member select committee of the legislature was passed tamely without any discussion
The Kerala Public Health Ordinance, 2021 was promulgated by the Governor of Kerala on February 23, 2021 and in October 2021 a Bill to replace the ordinance was presented in the Assembly, to be referred to a select committee.
It is after several rounds of discussions with experts from various public health fora and after gathering public opinion on various aspects of the proposed law that the select committee drafted the final Bill, Health Minister Veena George said while addressing the media here on Tuesday.
The new Bill has been drafted on the basis of a much broader premise that public health protection has to be on the basis of the One Health approach and that beyond mere diagnosis and curative services, public health should focus on improving the social determinants of health such as clean water and environment, sanitation and waste management.
The Bill also stresses the fact that the scope of a new public health law should encompass the threats posed by climate change, new and emerging viruses, heightened threat of the spill over of zoonotic diseases, non-communicable diseases spiraling out of control and the need for special care and attention for the vulnerable,including the elderly, chronically bedridden and the disabled.
Kerala Public Health Bill, 2023 thus lays out the responsibilities of the State and local health authorities in many new areas, including NCD (non-communicable disease) control and creating a conducive environment (including creation of open spaces and facilities to help people become physically active) to embrace lifestyle changes, checking zoonotic disease outbreaks, welfare of migrant labourers, food safety, blood banks and blood safety, biomedical waste management, tackling antimicrobial resistance and even ensuring adequate toilet facilities in public spaces.
The Director of Health Services will be the State Public Health Authority, with powers to constitute ad hoc public health advisory committees to manage public health emergencies. The State/ district and local health authorities will prepare annual action plans before the commencement of every financial year, charting out the activities that need to be taken up in advance to prevent seasonal epidemics and manage its impact on public health
The DHS will have the power to collect data from the public and private health-care establishments in the State on public health matters. She/he will publish standard medical treatment protocols that are to be followed by public and private health-care providers and health-care establishments in respect of the National Health Programmes and the diseases notified under this Bill.
Every health-care establishment, public or private, is required to report data on any communicable/notifiable disease they treat to the local health authority and follow the standard treatment guidelines issued by the DHS.
The Bill also requires local bodies to earmark a portion of the health budget for implementing programmes for the prevention and control of NCDs
Ms. George said that the Bill does not prevent an individual from seeking treatment from a registered medical practitioner from any recognised system of medicine. While some members of the select committee expressed their dissent that the Bill allows only practitioners of modern medicine to issue certificates that a person is disease-free, Ms. George clarified that the treating medical practitioner was free to issue such certificates to an individual, after necessary laboratory tests.