Invest in children’s health to secure India’s future well-being

By CK Mishra

New Delhi : India, with the world’s largest youth population, buzzes with the hopes, aspirations and dreams of the young. Nearly half (45%) of India’s population is below 20 – their future will shape India’s destiny. Healthy, hardworking young people will be the bedrock of a vibrant India that leads the world.

The National Health policy, launched in March 2017 aspires to ensure that everyone has access to healthcare, especially the poorest. It emphasises wellness and preventive healthcare, good quality maternal and child care, as well as comprehensive primary healthcare with two-way referrals. It aims to make healthcare affordable, through free drugs, diagnostics and emergency services, while leveraging India’s innovation and technology capacity. One significant element of the National Health Policy is that it proposes to raise public health expenditure to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025, as well as to cut family health expenditure by 25%, by 2025.

The recently launched Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan (PMSMA) is aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality rates through a fixed-day assured, comprehensive and quality antenatal care to pregnant women on the 9th of every month with voluntary support from private sector doctors to supplement the government’s effort in safe pregnancies and safe deliveries.

Child health can be protected through breastfeeding, immunisation and good hygiene practices. To make this possible, the Mother’s Absolute Affection (MAA) programme was launched to promote breastfeeding and provide counselling services to support breastfeeding through health systems. Breastfeeding provides complete nutrition for the child in the first six months of life and also protects children from a range of potentially lethal childhood infections.

The next step to protect a child is vaccination. In economic terms, studies have shown that investing a dollar in vaccines gives $44 in return. Investment in immunising a child is an investment in India’s future. We have already seen the benefits of controlling polio in India. To ensure all children in India have access to immunisation services, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) launched Mission Indradhanush (MI) in 2014 – as part of the world’s largest immunisation programme – a special drive to reach and vaccinate all unvaccinated and partially vaccinated children, thereby protecting them against 11 life threatening diseases. In addition, during these missions, pregnant women are administered the tetanus vaccine and vitamin A doses, and ORS packets and zinc tablets are distributed.

The aim is to reach more than 90% full immunisation coverage among children in the country by 2020. After three phases, 2.1 crore children and 55.9 lakh pregnant women have been vaccinated. It has also strengthened the health system by enabling access to health services, sometimes for the first time, in remote parts of the country.

Many new vaccines have also been introduced such as the rotavirus vaccine (RVV), measles-rubella (MR) and others. The Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) is also set to be introduced soon. This will benefit India and the world since pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death among children under 5 worldwide (close to 1,000,000 deaths in 2015). India accounts for nearly 20% of global pneumonia deaths among children under the age of five.

Nothing is more precious than the life of an Indian child. Everything we can do to protect our children must be done.

( CK Mishra is secretary, ministry of health and family welfare)

Source: Hindustan Times

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