Health could soon become a fundamental right

Health may soon be declared a fundamental right of every individual, similar to education, if the draft National Health Policy proposed by the ministry goes through. Pending for nearly two years, the draft is expected to be sent to the Cabinet early next month, official sources said.

“We have already circulated a Cabinet note. It should be placed before the Cabinet in another week or 10 days,” a senior health ministry official told TOI. The ministry had held several rounds of discussions with stakeholders, including states and other government departments, and consensus had been built on its proposals, he added.

Among various proposals, the draft policy advocates a National Health Rights Act, which will make “denial of health” an offence. It proposes that the Centre, in coordination with states, should use the legal clause available under the Clinical Establishments Bill and ensure health as a fundamental right. Besides, it suggests raising public health expenditure to 2.5 per cent of GDP from the current 1.2 per cent.

The draft addresses issues of making available universal health coverage, reducing maternal and infant mortality, as well as making free drugs and diagnostics available at least in public healthcare facilities in the country. It suggests that the Centre must amend laws to align them with the current healthcare scenario.
For instance, it proposes review of the Mental Health Bill, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, the surrogacy law and the food and drug safety law. The health ministry had placed the draft policy in public domain for comments in January last year. Though stakeholders were asked to comment on the policy by February 28, 2015, it got stuck following criticism that it was too long and did not provide any mechanism to implement the agenda set in it.

“Once it gets Cabinet approval, we will come out with an implementation framework which will suggest mechanisms, guidelines and protocols to implement the agenda set in the policy,” a ministry official said.


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