Govt for three-dimensional approach to health issues
SHILLONG, Aug 27: Principal Secretary of Health department Sampath Kumar has advocated a three-dimensional approach to health issues for setting up a dedicated cadre. He has also underscored the need for “blended” public health programmes among the northeastern states to overcome the shortage of medical specialists in the region.
He was speaking at a one-day roundtable organised by the Meghalaya government and the Bengaluru-based Centre of Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS) on Friday. The programme was attended by representatives of the Health and Family Welfare department from Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland besides Meghalaya.
The focus of the roundtable conference was on the findings of a study conducted by the CBPS titled ‘Does the Northeast need a Public Health Cadre: A study of four North-eastern states’, which was conducted in the latter half of 2021.
The study is an in-depth look at Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland from the aspect of the public health landscape, health budgets, current administrative structure and essential public health functions to understand whether these states would benefit from the presence of a public health cadre.
CBPS’s second study looked at the current landscape of the Masters in Public Health (MPH) programme in the country. The study was led by CBPS director Jyotsna Jha with the support of the Thakur Foundation.
The CBPS study on the feasibility of a public health cadre for the region said the northeastern states performed better than the national average on MCH indicators, and that there was a high dependency on central funding for public health (through the NHM).
Certain essential public health functions such as research and innovations assuring a competent public health workforce were almost non-existent across all four states. There was an acute shortage of trained public health professionals in all four states, and hence medical specialists filled the public health posts, the study revealed.
“A blended public health programme can help the north-eastern states tackle the shortage of specialists. Our approach also needs to be three-dimensional comprising preventive, promotive and curative care,” Sampath Kumar said.
The Meghalaya Health Policy, which came into effect in May 2021, ensures that the focus of health equally shifts to preventive care from just curative care in order to bring about a healthy and productive population. It also focuses on creating an enabling dimension by empowering communities to become producers of health services and not merely beneficiaries, such as through the newly-introduced Village Health Councils in Meghalaya.
The state’s additional secretary, Ram Kumar inaugurated the roundtable and said the states should first examine their public health system and arrive at a cadre structure that works best for them before creating a public health cadre.
The participants from all five states undertook a group exercise to assess the status of the essential public health functions in each of the states.
A presentation was also made on a study that mapped the MPH courses in India. The study showed there are currently 105 institutions offering MPH in India but only four of these are in the Northeast. Only 37% of the institutions were public institutions.
The study also found students were plagued with high fees (average Rs 2.9 lakh for private and Rs 87,000 for public institutions), insufficient information on the courses online and poor field immersion. There was also no accrediting agency for MPH in India.
A brief presentation highlighting the contribution of IIPH-Shillong in public health education in the Northeast was also given during the roundtable session.