'With healthcare for all, Assam set to be a model state'

Guwahati, April 17

Assam is set to become a model state in healthcare in India with one of the best performances under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and passing a bill guaranteeing the right to healthcare for all, says Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

"Just like the Right to Education (RTE) Act makes education a right, the government in Assam will now be compelled to provide healthcare as a right to every individual here and not merely as a token of welfare," Sarma told

IANS in an interview.

"With the NRHM adjudging us as one of the best performing states and the unique health bill set to change the healthcare scenario here, Assam is all set to be a model state in the country," he added.

The Assam Public Health Bill, 2010, passed by the state assembly April 1, is a watershed legislative measure in the country guaranteeing the right to healthcare sans any financial constraint.

"One of the features of the bill is the right to free trauma care, including tests like CT scan and MRIs, within the first 24 hours of any emergency in private hospitals. So whether it's a road accident victim or someone who has suffered a heart attack, they can be rushed to any hospital and not necessarily a government one for fear of expensive bills," the minister said.

Just like an impact assessment on the environment is done by any development activity like industry, the bill also mandates a health impact assessment test for new development projects.

"Once the Act is implemented, a standing committee will be formed which will look at a health impact assessment on any new industry that comes up in the state," Sarma said.

"We are also looking at some kind of reservation for people of economically backward classes in private nursing homes. We will also make it mandatory for all hospitals to make necessary upgradations so as to meet Indian Public Heath Standards," he added.

Recognising the gap in the number of healthcare centres in rural areas, Sarma said the bill also proposes the setting up of an additional 400 hospitals in the state. Not just that, the bill also proposes that if a person doesn't find a

Doctor in a government hospital, he can seek reimbursement of his transportation costs.

If all goes well, the Rs.50-60 billion project will be implemented Jan 1, 2011, for an initial period of five years.

"In the first year we will make some provisions in the budget and invest Rs.15 billion for the scheme. But we realise that it is a mammoth of a project and we need the centre's help in that. We have approached the central government to take Assam as a model state and channelise some central funds for implementation of the same with state support," Sarma said.

The state had been in the news for having the highest maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the country. According to the Sample Registration Services (SRS) 2004-2006, Assam's MMR was 480 per 100,000 live births. India's MMR was 254.

On this, Sarma said: "I agree that Assam fared poorly in that MMR data, but things have improved now. Every maternal death is accounted for. Our own data over the past two years shows that the infant mortality rate (IMR) and the MMR have gone down, with 75 percent institutional deliveries. We have written to the health ministry to conduct a survey and see the results for themselves."

Unicef said last month that Assam was doing much better than the rest of India in exclusive breast feeding to infants and has saved 1.7 million kids from slipping into under-nourishment.

"My focus now is the health bill. I am determined to see it implemented - if the state elections coincide with the implementation date, then we will prepone it by two months," Sarma said.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.p@ians.in)