Indian health ministry refutes UK journal editor’s criticism of health sector

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 29 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5813
  1. Cheryl Travasso
  1. 1Mumbai

A spat has broken out between India’s health ministry and the editor in chief of the Lancet after he lambasted the Indian government for sidelining the health of its people and putting national security at risk.

In an interview with the Times of India Richard Horton criticised Narendra Modi’s government for ignoring the health sector and failing to generate any new ideas or policies and to commit more money to health.1

The Lancet is due to publish a paper in December that will criticise Modi for sidelining his promise to roll out universal healthcare coverage and for neglecting public health.

Horton told the Times of India, “Since Modi has come in, health has completely vanished. India is on the edge. If PM Modi does not tackle health, India’s economy combined with rising population is not sustainable. For India, health is an issue of national security. The government cannot protect the sovereignty of its nation, cannot ensure sustainability unless it has a healthy population. At present Modi has done nothing much to tackle the challenge.”

Horton believes that the country has two options now: to continue to ignore health, face epidemics, and see its national security collapse; or to invest in health and secure a flourishing future.

Horton said that the main problem in India was “the lack of investment in the public health system and the growth of an unregulated private sector.” In addition, India had the highest birth rate and newborn mortality, which he described as a “national shame.”

He urged the government to increase public spending on health and to focus on reducing child and maternal mortality and non-communicable diseases.

Rakesh Kumar, joint secretary at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, rebutted the criticisms in a letter to the Times of India, calling the content in Horton’s interview “derogatory” and “not borne [out] by evidence.”2 He argued that although new ideas and policies were needed it was equally important to consolidate ongoing work to make sure that people were receiving the services that were available to them. Launching an “alphabet soup” of programmes without being able to implement them would be a disservice, said Kumar.

Kumar pointed out several steps the government had taken to ensure better hygiene in public hospitals, to develop tertiary health centres and specialty medical colleges, and to strengthen regulation of drugs. He highlighted India’s recent achievements in reducing maternal and infant mortality, improvements in the universal immunisation programme, and efforts to control HIV and tuberculosis.

Kumar defended the government’s spending on health and said that no existing programmes had been stopped or cut because of a lack of funds.

He added, “We have Universal Health Coverage firmly in our sights and to this end we have sharpened focus on good primary health care . . . We are indeed committed to ensuring Universal Health Coverage with first priority accorded to the health needs of those who require it the most. UHC with equity is thus our goal.”

The ministry warned that the Lancet should “not become a tool in the hands of people with their own agenda for generating political controversies.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5813


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