Statement by Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, at the Plenary Session of 63rd World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland Statement by Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, at the..

Statement by Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, at the Plenary Session of 63rd World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland


Mr. President, Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates, 


It is my honour to address this august gathering of the world leaders.  I bring with me, for all of you, greetings from the people of India. 


The World Health Assembly provides an opportunity not only to share with the world community our progress viz.-a-via the world public health agenda; it also gives us a platform to reiterate and reaffirm our commitment thereto.


On behalf of Government of India and on my behalf, I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations to you on your election as President of the World Health Assembly for the year 2010.   I wish you all success and assure you of our constructive co-operation in steering the deliberations of this Assembly towards fruitful and meaningful outcomes.  I would also like to take this opportunity to compliment the Director General, WHO for her sincere and untiring efforts to place the public health agenda high on the priorities of the global community. 


At the outset, I would like to express sympathy and solidarity of the Government and the people of India with the Government and people of Haiti for the tragic loss of life and widespread damage caused by the recent earthquake. 


Mr. President, Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates 


Natural calamities and Disasters of any hue disrupt progress and slow down the process of sustainable human development, thereby turning back the clock by several decades.  Resilience of countries and communities to cope with such adversities cannot emerge only from the benevolence of humanitarian assistance.  Achieving the MDGs, I believe, would certainly help build such capacity on a sustainable basis.   I am, therefore, glad that in this World Health Assembly we shall be extensively debating the progress made towards achieving the MDGs.  These would be further debated upon in the UN General Assembly in its forthcoming session in September.


Given its size and challenges, the achievement of MDGs globally depends on the performance of countries like India.  I am pleased to inform the house that the Indian Government has been making concerted effort to match its economic performance with commensurate social and human development.


  The recent Lancet assessment of Maternal Mortality for 181 countries 1990-2008 takes note of the rapid increases in Skilled Birth Attendants in recent years in India.  It also identifies India, with a 4% yearly decline in MMR, as one of the countries with substantial declines during this period. The simultaneous efforts for demand generation for institutional deliveries under Janani Suraksha Yojana, and supply side interventions for quality care in the primary health system are translating into an unprecedented increase in institutional deliveries.  We are confident that the MDG Target of MMR of 100 per 100,000 that had seem so daunting till a few years ago, is now very much in the realm of the possible.  India was already at 254 in the 2004-06 period.


While the decline in Infant and Child Mortality has not been as rapid as required to reduce child mortality by 2/3rd by 2015, the intensive efforts to address neo-natal care will surely bear good results in the years to come.  It is encouraging that no fresh case of polio has been reported in the last 6 weeks.  We have recently introduced the Bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine.  We are keeping our fingers crossed while continuing our efforts to vaccinate each child.   A simultaneous effort to provide skills at every health facility to handle neo natal mortality and skills among community workers for handling home based new born care is being intensified to attain a higher rate of mortality reduction.  There has been a substantial addition of over 700,000 community health workers and over a 100,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics during the last five years.


We also believe that success in our efforts to tackle IMR and MMR will also help us to stabilize our population.  Once the system guarantees that a child born would live, it would not be difficult to convince our people to limit their family size.  I take this opportunity to call upon world leaders to redouble our efforts to achieve population stabilization not only to better their quality of life of their people but also for the sake of our environment.  Humankind must limit its foot print on the environment, if we are to save ourselves from the impending catastrophe.


The strengthening of our health system has also  had positive consequences for all hitherto vertically managed programmes like Malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS etc. and the gains of intra-health sector convergence have started showing during this period.  To monitor progress in the backward districts more effectively, the Indian Government has started an Annual Health Survey of 284 districts in nine provinces with the most unsatisfactory health indicators.  We hope to use district specific evidence to further sharpen our interventions to ensure that India does not lag behind in its commitment to the achievement of MDGs.


While we are doing our best to achieve the MDGs, we also look forward to proactive measures from the World Health Organization.  We need to provide to our people access to low cost good quality vaccines and drugs.  Traditionally, vaccines are the cheapest intervention for preventing disease.  Vaccines for the recent H1N1 Pandemic have been beyond the reach of many.  We need to aggressively drive down prices and break the monopolistic hold of afew.  The Indian vaccines industry is producing high quality vaccines at affordable price for domestic and global market.  UN agencies procure more than 250 million USD worth of vaccines from Indian manufacturers annually for global supplies.  It is important that the WHO prequalification process is expedited to further facilitate the Indian vaccine manufacturers in playing a vital role in assuring global security of vaccines.  Similarly, low cost good quality generic drugs make medical treatment a viable option for many.  If our people cannot afford and access medical interventions then our approach towards MDGs is crassly pontifical. Unfortunately, over the last three years we have been quibbling in the WHO over issues like counterfeits drugs and substandard drugs etc.  We are very clear that the term ‘counterfeit’ is a term of commerce and should not be used to hamper public health by preventing access to good quality low cost generic drugs.  We wish to send a clear message that WHO should not involve itself with issues relating to enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights.  Instead, it ought to focus on furthering public health.


We also need to urgently resolve the deadlock over sharing virus, vaccines and other benefits.  We firmly believe that virus sharing and benefit sharing must be on an equal footing and there is no room for further compromise.  And while on the issue of Pandemics I must commend for your consideration the ‘One Health’ concept that has emerged from the New Delhi, Sharam-al-Sheikh and Hanoi Inter Ministerial Conferences on Avian and Pandemic Influenza.  This comprehensively encompasses human animal and environmental health.  We would like to see WHO aligning with this concept instead of positioning different diseases into vertical silos.  We believe that this would complement our efforts to achieving the MDGs.


To conclude let me assure all of you that India is now well on track for achieving the MDGs.  Proactive promotion of low cost good quality generic drugs and vaccines would give the extra stimulus required to achieve the MDGs within the stipulated timelines.  These provide an opportunity to make this world a better place for our progeny.  Let us reach out and grasp it.


I thank you for your attention.