Dr. Harsh Vardhan digitally addresses the Inter Ministerial Conference by Partners in Population and Development (PPD)

New Delhi: Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare digitally addressed the Inter Ministerial Conference by Partners in Population and Development (PPD), here today, through Video Conference.

His opening remarks are as follows:

Excellencies, Dignitaries, Distinguished Speakers, Experts, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here amidst all of you today, to renew India’s commitments, which were made at the Nairobi Summit.

I would like to begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to the organizers for hosting this very important conference on South-South Cooperation in Population and Development. It is an honour and pleasure to be able to address the esteemed Members who are present here today.

Exchanging knowledge, skills, and technical expertise through South-South Cooperation has proven to be effective in addressing development challenges in member countries…. India lauds the efforts of Partners in Population and Development in promoting cooperation in key areas of reproductive health, population and development. We stay committed towards this cause in all possible ways.

As a valued member of PPD, India is steadfast in its reaffirmation of the commitments made at the Nairobi Summit, to work towards ending all maternal deaths, fulfilling unmet needs for family planning, reducing gender-based violence and ending harmful practices against women and girls. The timeline for achieving these targets has been stipulated at 2030.

India is committed to ensuring Universal Health Coverage through its Flagship Programme, ‘Ayushman Bharat’. Under the National Health Protection Scheme, we are providing health care coverage of 7000 US dollars per family per year, effectively covering over 500 million Indians. Under this ambitious program, which is also the world’s largest health assurance scheme, I am proud to state that we aim to cover each and every citizen of India, eventually.

We have been making continuous efforts to substantially reduce the unmet need for contraception by increasing the range of contraceptives and improving accessibility and quality of family planning services. Through mass awareness campaigns, strong advocacy & counseling, we’re helping couples make informed & responsible choices to decide on the number of children and age gap between them.

For achieving the Sustainable Development Goal target for reducing Maternal Mortality Rate to less than 70 by 2030 we have implemented a program called SUMAN which means Safe Motherhood Assurance.

We are also enacting stringent legislations& strengthening schematic interventions to address gender-based violence &eliminate all forms of atrocities against women and girls.

India is committed to increasing government expenditure on health. My Government has already pledged 3 billion US Dollars by 2020 for improving reproductive health services. We will continue to draw on our demographic diversity to drive economic growth and achieve sustainable development by formulating state-specific policies as per age, sex and migration characteristics.

We remain committed to young people’s education, health and skills along with the health and well-being of our ageing population. India is dedicated to providing quality, timely and disaggregated data, investing in digital health innovations, and improvement of data systems by 2030 to achieve sustainable development.

As you are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a challenge across the globe compelling us to make increasingly urgent decisions about delivering healthcare while curbing the virus transmission. We should be mindful of the fact that COVID is not the first and definitely won’t be last to test mankind’s resolve. One cannot build an adequate health system to respond to an emergency during an emergency. Rather, such emergencies evoke a focused response, which are in-fact a test of the competence of the country’s health care system.

India’s COVID response started even before it was declared as a pandemic by WHO and we had geared up much before the first case was detected on January 30, 2020.

As per latest official updates, India’s active caseload has been dipping and currently accounts for around 4% of the total cases. The recovery rate is showing improvement and presently it is more than 94%. India also continues to have one of the lowest cases per million population in the world.

India has been efficiently following the test, trace and treat strategy. Our testing capacity has reached almost 1.5 million per day, with more than 149 million tests conducted so far.

Adequate health care financing is crucial for ensuring effective health care system. With aspirations of achieving Universal Health care, India’s National Health Policy 2017 aims at raising public health expenditure to 2.5 percent of the GDP. Our Hon’ble Prime Minister announced an allocation of 2 billion US Dollars for building health infrastructure to strengthen the fight against coronavirus.

My Government has been working tirelessly to ensure that the Indian health system addresses the pandemic,while simultaneously ensuring unhindered access to essential Non COVID services like Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health Plus Nutrition services. We have mandated that under no circumstances should there be a denial of essential services to women, newborns & children irrespective of their COVID status.

We are mindful of the fact that the decline in use of short and long acting reversible contraceptives would mean an additional unmet need and increasing unintended pregnancies in the country. Any decline in service coverage of essential pregnancy related and newborn care would also be adding to maternal and newborn deaths.

Recognizing the concern of increase in probabilities of unsafe abortions during such times, India has laid a special emphasis on provision of safe abortion services besides postpartum and post-abortion contraception.

Community based interventions including Family Planning are also a part of these services. The prime focus is on provision of modern short and long-acting reversible contraceptive services, correct information and appropriate counseling. Adolescents and youth, who form a substantial cohort of India’s population, are a priority target group.

We are also working on promoting alternate service delivery mechanisms with promotion of telemedicine services, digital platforms for trainings, improving finances and streamlining supply chain systems. In India, we have ensured that Family Planning commodities are part of essential medicine list.

Advocacy and monitoring at the highest level is being ensured through regular virtual meetings with stakeholders. The states are provided a platform to share the best practices on provision of essential services during COVID. This helps in improving the efficiency of service delivery in all the states of India as well as provides opportunities for cross learning.

The technical support of partner agencies for provision of contraceptives through community health provider at migrant and quarantine camps, online capacity building of providers, operationalizing telemedicine services, engagement with private sector & social marketers as well as contraceptive manufacturers has substantiated the government’s effort in streamlining the essential services.

The pandemic has led to an unprecedented impact on all aspect of our lives, but at the same time it has offered us a never-before opportunity to pause and rethink on how to move forward towards a better future. The crisis demonstrates that governments and individuals are capable of strong and rapid action in the face of an overarching challenge.

This is a time for integrated, coordinated efforts from all health institutions, academia and other partners directly or indirectly associated with the health care services in making contraceptive and safe abortion services accessible, affordable and acceptable to all. PPD plays an important role in fostering such dialogue at the highest levels to take forward the common agenda of ‘Health for All’.

I would like to end by thanking all members for their continued support and active engagement with Partners in Population and Development. Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to address this esteemed gathering.