Health issues have always been central to society due to its direct relationship with
productivity and general well-being of humans as species. With Modi Government having
made health central to its governance, health has been getting importance more and more
with every passing year.
The incidence of physical & mental health issues has been on the rise since the outbreak of
the COVID-19 pandemic and are manifested in various forms. Individuals in all phases of life
have been affected by this
unprecedented crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for people due to
confusion & uncertainty, decreased income and productivity, difficulty in seeking
routine and emergency care coupled with precautionary measures, disruption of daily
routine, and social activities. The problem to be addressed properly needs multiprong
approach which should include both preventive and curative measures.
A proper health care system to be in place is the basic requirement for this. As against the
World Health Organization’s (WHO) threshold of 22.8 health workers, India has about 20.6
health workers per 10000 people. Even though there has been constant improvement in the
availability of health workers in India, their distribution between private and public sector as
also between rural and urban areas remains a major concern for the government.
We all know well and believe that prevention is better than cure but lack of awareness and
unhealthy lifestyles have led to the health problems. Past experience of professional health
workers and people, in general, has demonstrated amply well that both curative and
preventive measures are important to achieve the desired health goals.
It is in this context that the public health system is very important for preventing illness and
mental health problems. A glance at health facilities and approach to the health sector
clearly
demonstrates that there has been more focus on clinical and treatment aspects of health
care and the development of an effective public health system have not received the focus
and attention it deserved. 
The time has come that we focus on preventive measures as it will reduce the burden on
the existing health workers and cut down costs drastically to achieve health goals. This has
been
 realized well during the pandemic that the adequate public health systems to create
awareness, counselling, and other preventive measures to avoid illness has grossly
neglected
and focus has been on fire-fighting methods of curing and controlling illness after it has
occurred. Public health issues are discussed and debated only when there is some crisis to

combat and once the crisis subsides the public health issues are conveniently forgotten. One
of the main reasons for this is the syllabus for doctors in medical colleges are primarily
focussed on treatment and there is hardly any emphasis on public health and preventive
measures. Economic interest of many are also at stake which has been prohibiting any
meaningful policy emphasis to promote and develop public health system focussing equally
on prevention and cure. The age-old saying “prevention is better than cure”, still holds
true, although we have been blatantly focusing and deploying resources for the cure and
not prevention.
 
Considering the situation around, and that the COVID-19 and its after-effects are here to
stay for quite some time, it is important that the government considers having a dedicated
Public Health Minister. Countries like Vietnam and Taiwan, despite being close to China
were able to tackle COVID-19 very well and it resulted in fewer deaths in Taiwan because of
their well-developed public health infrastructure and system and technically proficient
people at the ministerial level.
 
Improving public health is a continuous process, and it should rather be the way of living.
This will require strong public health leadership and systems in place. With India’s
commitment to digitalize healthcare with the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), the
delivery of public health services will have a far better reach even in the remotest areas.
The boom in connectivity and the use of smartphones and other electronic devices will
propel up the process of digitalization. The social media platform has the potential to
penetrate into hitherto marginalized and remote areas with scant or no medical facilities.
This will help in creating awareness and sensitization of masses on different health issues
and motivating them to lead a more healthy and productive life.
 
We have developed two vaccines Covishield and Covaxin, to fight COVID-19, but we need to
have a proper plan of action in place to implement the vaccine drive successfully and
report and address any adverse effects following immunization. In order to focus on public
health, we need to have a dedicated ministry for this. We need a dedicated team who
monitors the situation and is prepared to suggest appropriate interventions at different
levels to handle the problems and provide solutions. This would also help in tracking
patients and post-launch surveillance for side effects and their management. This would
certainly provide vital research findings and help in the development of science too. 
 
India can be the 1 st country to have a dedicated, well-experienced technologist as the
Minister of State for Public Health & Digital Health.
 
We, too, are moving digitally like the world, and the vision of our PM for NDHM says a lot.
To ensure that we succeed, India needs a dedicated minister of state for Public Health &
Digital Health.

By Dr. Himadri Bisht, Mevish P Vaishnav

Mevish P Vaishnav works in the area of policy and advocacy at Health Parliament, a Think - Tank dedicated to health policy and reform. Dr. Himadri Bisht works as a Research Associate at Health Parliament. Tweet@healthparliamnt

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