Focus shifts to healthcare delivery in 2023 as Covid stress eases

After three long years of Covid-induced turbulence, 2023 saw a semblance of normalcy in the health sector, allowing the government to turn its attention to other important commitments such as the elimination of sickle cell disease and the launch of Ayushman Bhav to ensure optimum delivery of health schemes. However, by the end of the year, the Covid scare resurfaced as the number of daily cases began to rise due to the emergence of new sub-variant JN.1 and cold weather conditions, prompting the health ministry to step up surveillance.

The year began with concerns over the XBB.1.16 variant of the coronavirus leading to some rise in cases, but it eventually petered out, allowing the health ministry officials to focus on other priority areas.

A major initiative this year has been the launch of the National Sickle Cell Anaemia Elimination Mission by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July. The mission is aimed at elimination of the disease in India, particularly among the country’s tribal populations in 17 high prevalence states by 2047.

The mission entails screening of seven crore population in the age group of zero to 40 years for sickle cell disease, pre-marital and pre-conceptional genetic counselling for its prevention, and holistic care for those who have sickle cell disease across both primary and secondary public health facilities.

Another major achievement of the health ministry in 2023 has been the operationalisation of 1,63,402 Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs), now renamed as Ayushman Arogya Mandir, by upgrading the sub health centres and primary health centres to bring healthcare closer to the community.

As reported by states and union territories, 1,63,402 Ayushman Arogya Mandir have been operationalised till December 15. According to available data, 55.66 crore screenings have been done for hypertension and 48.44 crore screenings for diabetes at these facilities till now. Similarly, these facilities have done 32.80 crore screenings for oral cancer, 14.90 crore screenings for cervical cancer and more than 10.04 screenings for breast cancer.

With the objective to provide quality health services to a patient residing in rural areas, these centres have facility of tele-consultation, achieving a total of more than 17 crore teleconsultations so far.

To provide further boost to the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) health insurance scheme, the Ayushman Bhav initiative was launched by the ministry for ensuring the saturation of various healthcare schemes at the village level, ultimately reaching the last-mile beneficiaries.

It was launched by President Droupadi Murmu on September 13.

The Ayushman Bhav campaign was launched to facilitate the easy issuance of Ayushman Bharat cards to beneficiaries.

This initiative encompasses a series of interventions, including ‘Aapke Dwar Ayushman 3.0’, ‘Ayushman Sabhas’, ‘Ayushman Melas’, and the ultimate goal of elevating villages to the status of ‘Ayushman Gram’.

The National Health Authority (NHA), the apex body responsible for the implementation of the AB-PMJAY, launched ‘Aapke Dwar Ayushman 3.0’ campaign on September 17 as part of the Ayushman Bhav initiative.

An Android-based ‘Ayushman App’ has been launched by the National Health Authority wherein self-verification feature for beneficiaries has been enabled. This ensures that any mobile device can be used for Ayushman card creation.

The Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra, launched by the prime minister on November 15, aims to raise awareness about the government’s development policies and schemes among the people.

During the yatra, on-the-spot delivery of Ayushman cards was offered to beneficiaries.

Till December 20, approximately 28.45 crore Ayushman cards have been created since the inception of AB-PMJAY, of which approximately 9.38 crore cards have been created during the current year.

A total of 6.11 crore hospital admissions involving expenditure of Rs 78,188 crore have been authorized under the scheme, of which 1.7 crore hospital admissions worth over Rs 25,000 crore have been authorized during 2023.

In a positive news for patients with rare diseases across India, the health ministry launched India-made drugs for four rare ailments — Tyrosinemia-Type 1, Gaucher disease, Wilson’s disease, and Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes. The move came along with slashing the cost of these drugs by anywhere between 100 to 60 times of the current market value.

Four more drugs for three diseases — Sapropterin tablet for phenylketonuria, Sodium Phenylbutyrate and Carglumic Acid tablets for hyperammonemia, and Miglustat capsule for Gaucher disease — are under process for approval and are likely to be available by April 2024, official sources said.

While observing a rise in sudden heart attack cases among the youth, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya in December launched the nationwide cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training campaign, in which more than 20 lakh people participated.

As 2023 drew to a close, the new JN.1 of the coronavirus emerged emerged, with the first case reported from Kerala.

The number of JN.1 cases reported across the country till December 30 was 178, prompting the ministry to issue advisories to states to ramp up testing and strengthen their surveillance systems.

States have asked to monitor and report district-wise cases of influenza-like illness and severe acute respiratory illness regularly for early detection of rising trend of cases.

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