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Various Challenges Ahead For Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan

Public health workers expect Vardhan to bring the strong voice of health into more decisions involving medicines and medical devices

Change comes knocking at the doors of healthcare this week, as Dr Harsh Vardhan took charge at the Union Health Ministry on Monday.

In a separate development, under a different ministry, the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) also got a new person at the helm with Raghavendra Rao as the Secretary, though as an additional charge.

Harsh Vardhan’s second coming is being greeted with much expectation by public health workers who expect him to bring the strong voice of health into more decisions involving medicines and medical devices.

It is expected that a major thrust will be given to expanding the scope of Ayushman Bharat. The Union Health Ministry would also get more hospitals across the country on board to deliver this health insurance coverage scheme. The minister expressed his intent on Day 1, after riding to work on a bicycle.

But his attention is likely to taken up by the promised disbanding of the Medical Council of India (MCI) and setting up of the National Medical Commission to administer a much needed remedy to medical education in the country.

In addition to supporting public health programmes, to control tobacco use or address tuberculosis-related issues, Harsh Vardhan may need to define the Government’s approach to solving the Oxytocin controversy. An injection used to treat excessive bleeding in pregnant women, Oxytocin found itself at the centre of a storm as it’s private production and sale was banned to prevent its irrational use.

Gynaecologists and other authorities had warned of its shortages. Since only one public sector unit (PSU) was allowed to make the product, the issue went into litigation and is currently in the Supreme Court.

As the build-up towards the Union Budget begins, everybody would like to know whether the Health Minister could get the finances to keep the Government’s promise of increasing the health expenditure to 2.5 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

On the pharmaceutical front, the industry is looking for a more stable policy from the DoP, even as it comes to terms with the reality of living with price control. Other issues involving fixed dose combination drugs or clinical trials are in and out of expert committees as well as courts. The issues will continue to simmer.

But the medical devices sector has been calling for a different ministry, law and approach for a long time. Now, the industry will watch how the policies would be steered under the new leadership at the DoP and Health Ministry.

It is likely that the stringent view on the prices of medical devices, that resulted in the price control on stents and orthopaedic implants, for instance, could see a revival.

Though earlier dispensations at the DoP and NITI Aayog had looked at diluting the role of the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), public health workers are hopeful that the Health Ministerwill support the NPPA’s role even when it comes under the Chemicals and Fertilizers ministry.- The Hindu Business Line 

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