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Dr Harsh Vardhan: The new custodian of India’s health

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Dr Harsh Vardhan

An ENT surgeon, Dr Harsh Vardhan is the new Health Minister of India. Fondly called ‘Doctor Saab’ in the Delhi circles, Dr Harsh Vardhan is known for his simplicity and transparency at the work. The veteran politician started his political journey in Delhi and rose in ranks to become the Delhi Party President. A post he held on to till he became the cabinet minister in the Narendra Modi government.

He is inspired by the teaching of Swami Vivekananda and wants to make health and education a social movement and a national goal.

The country’s new Health Minister started his tenure by wishing India good health. “My innings as Union Health Minister commences today. Need the good wishes and blessings of India. Wish you good health,” the minister tweeted on May 27, 2014.

He is said to be remarkably accessible and has a hands-on style of functioning. He held the portfolios of Education, Health and Law in the Delhi government between 1993 and 1998 and is known for initiating the pulse polio programme. He believes that a new and integrated holistic system of medicine is the need of the hour, which should incorporate the best of all systems including Ayurveda, Siddha, Yoga, Naturopathy, Homeopathy (AYUSH) and our other ancient systems.

The second child of late Om Prakash Goel and Snehlata, Dr Harsh Vardhan was born in December 13, 1954. He has an older sister and younger brother. Young Harsh Vardhan did his schooling in different schools in the Chandni Chowk area went to Kanpur to attend GSVM Medical College, from where he obtained his MBBS and later MS with specialisation in ENT. He returned to Delhi to set up a private practice as an ENT surgeon. But his restless soul, which had manifested itself earlier and drawn him towards the RSS, persuaded him to take up projects for the betterment of society. He joined the Indian Medical Association’s Delhi Chapter and worked hard in East Delhi, which is his immediate neighbourhood, to build up a solidarity of medical practitioners. He held various posts in the Delhi Medical Association – from Secretary and President (East Delhi) to State Secretary and President, where he showed early signs of his leadership qualities.

He is widely recognised as the man who took the original initiative to start the Pulse Polio programme in India. In 1993, then the Minister for Health and Law in the Government of Delhi launched Pulse Polio first in Delhi, which was then home to 10 per cent of polio cases in India. In 1994, on a single day (October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi), he organised the mass immunisation of 1.2 million children.

He was also instrumental in bringing the first ever anti-tobacco legislation in India. In 1997, under his bold leadership, the Delhi Prohibition of Smoking and Non-Smokers Health Protection Act was passed.

A major pioneering initiative of Dr Harsh Vardhan was implementing WHO’s Essential Drug Programme, which revolutionised government’s attitudes on public healthcare. Under the concept, maximum budgetary outlay was apportioned to those drugs most needed by the people. It was henceforth known as the ‘Delhi Model’ and taken up by several foreign countries and at least a dozen state governments in India. The Delhi Society for Promotion of Rational use of Drugs, which is a powerful movement now, was thus born and Dr Harsh Vardhan continues to be associated with its progress.

His missionary zeal touched other areas of healthcare as well. Under him, Delhi’s Maulana Azad Medical College got the country’s first ever Department for Occupational and Environmental Health. He launched the Matri Suraksha Programme to ensure proper mother and childcare for Delhi’s middle and lower income groups. The Cancer Control Programme, the Cataract Free Delhi Programme and the Shravan Shakti Abhiyan for the rehabilitation of the elderly and the hearing impaired, were begun under his leadership. His administration also launched the Healthy City Project, the Hepatitis B Immunisation Programme and a Delhi Research Centre for Modernised Promotion of Ayurveda. Two other significant pieces of legislation that bear his stamp are the Delhi Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Act as well as Delhi Artificial Insemination Act.

He believes, “A major and the most important task in my view remains those politicians, decision makers and those who rule have to appreciate the importance of health. They should become equal partners in health promotion movement and preventing illness. Secondly, the allocation for health should be augmented from present abysmal levels to more realistic levels. Let health be concern of one and all.”

Dr Harsh Vardhan promotes the ‘Human Face’ of medicine and says that considerable effort is needed to inculcate these virtues among our budding physicians. He strongly feel that the biggest challenge is to change the mind-set of our healers so that poor and needy do not feel unwanted.

(Compiled by Neelam Kachhap)

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