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The Covid19 pandemic has not only caught countries off the guard but has exposed the inadequacy of public health infrastructure in meeting public health emergencies. Health over a period of time has become synonymous with health care and public health with public sector health.The contributory factors for good health and living of communities such as preventive and promotional health and other social determinants have received inadequate attention during the last several decades.
It is not the first time that India has faced a pandemic of this magnitude.The AIDS epidemic that struck the world in the eighties and nineties of the last millennium had also impacted India.And the public health infrastructure was again found wanting to tackle the unprecedented nature of the epidemic.Strong response mounted by the government with involvement and participation of the infected and affected communities helped the country to halt the epidemic but the reversal process has slowed down over the last few years.
No lessons have been learnt from that experience and public health continues to be neglected both by the government of India and the states.The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the Ayushman Bharat programmes are two good examples of positive action with political commitment in the midst of this overall neglect.The Covid19 is both a challenge and an opportunity to correct this imbalance in the health system to make it more robust and effective to fulfil the needs of the poor and marginalised sections of population who are disproportionately impacted by the series of pandemics.
This panel discusses whether any lessons have been learnt and how the public health infrastructure and delivery systems can be strengthened by better planning, application of resources in hitherto neglected areas and mobilisation of communities and private sector as effective partners with governments.
Vandana Gurnani is the Additional Secretary and Mission Director of the National Health Mission at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. Vandana Gurnani joined the prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1991 and currently heads the National Health Mission in her capacity as Additional Secretary to Government of India. Prior to this she led the Reproductive and Child Health Programme under the National Health Mission for over three years. Her notable achievements include implementation of various programmes like Mission Indradhanush, introduction of Midwifery Nurse Practitioners, Safe Motherhood Assurance (SUMAN), Anaemia Free India Campaign and Home-Based care of the Young Children, to name a few, for improved health of women, children and adolescents and reaching the marginalized and unreached.
In her 28 years of public service, Vandana has served as an administrator, policy-maker and public health strategist holding a wide range of assignments in the fields of Health, Women & Child Development, Urban and Rural Development. She was instrumental in organizing the 4th PMNCH Partners’ Forum (2018) for women’s children’s and adolescents’ health at New Delhi, which was presided over by the Honourable Prime Minister of India and attended by more than 1600 participants from 92 countries. She also has various publications in her name in reputable journals, mainly focusing on health issues and solutions. A native of New Delhi, Vandana earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Economics from the prestigious Delhi School of Economics University and started her career as a lecturer in Economics in the same university, before joining the IAS.
J V R Prasada Rao
J.V.R. Prasada Rao, former Union Health Secretary, Government of India, is the Special Advisor to UNAIDS. Prasada Rao was the Special Envoy to the Secretary General of the United Nations on HIV/AIDS for the Asia Pacific region from 2013 to 2017. In this capacity, Prasada Rao acts as the representative of the Secretary General to advocate with countries in the region on important policy and strategic issues connected with HIV/AIDS.
From 1997 to 2002, he was the Director of India’s National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). As Secretary for Health and Family Welfare from 2002 to 2004, he made immense contributions to the health sector’s development and was instrumental in drafting the National AIDS Prevention and Control Policy and the National Blood Transfusion Policy of India.
Prasada Rao participated as member of important global initiatives like the Transitional Working Group, which decided the operation mechanism for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) and the High Level Forum, which was set up jointly by the World Bank, World Health Organization, and bilateral donors for monitoring achievement of health-related Millennium Development Goals. He also served as a member of the Programme Coordinating Board of UNAIDS while he was Director at NACO.
Prasada Rao hails from the State of Andhra Pradesh and had his formal education at Andhra University, Visakhapatnam. He did his post-graduate studies in nuclear physics and later joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1967. He served on a number of important assignments in the Government of West Bengal and later in the Government of India before joining the Health Ministry in 1997 as Director of NACO.
Giridhara R Babu
Giridhara R Babu is Professor and Head – Life Course Epidemiology at Public Health Foundation of India. He has a medical degree (MBBS) from Kasturba medical college Manipal and has completed MPH and PhD from UCLA (University of California Los Angeles). He has two decades of experience in public health research, practice and academics. He began his career at the Center for Community Medicine of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi as a Junior Resident. Next, he worked with World Health Organization where he led the efforts in stopping polio transmission in the state of Karnataka. He initiated advocacy for Measles surveillance in Karnataka leading to constitution of Multi Year Plan (MYP) for Measles elimination in India. He is awarded the prestigious intermediate and now the senior fellowship of Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance to start and expand cohort study. The cohort is named as MAASTHI (Maternal Antecedents of Adiposity Studying the Transgenerational role of Hyperglycemia and Insulin).
Giridhara has over 100 papers published in national and international high impact journals. He has served on several national and international committees. Some of them include Lancet Commission Task force on COVID19, ICMR National Task Force for COVID-I9 and the Technical Analysis Committee of the Government of Karnataka. He is the regional representative for LMICs on the DoHaD international society.
He is actively involved in writing articles for general public, providing his expert opinion to media houses and consultation to several states. His work on COVID-19 can be accessed here https://giridhar.org/covid-19/
Angela has over 20 years of experience in Public Health in India and internationally. She is a Partner at Swasti, The Health Catalyst and leads the Health Practice for Catalyst Management Services Pvt Ltd. From evaluation of several countries’ national HIV programs, to research, capacity building and knowledge management, Angela works closely with governments, civil society, community groups and corporates. She supports countries with poor health outcomes, to help strengthen their health programs. She has globally co-designed interventions and helped raise more than 1.3 Billion USD for TB, HIV, Malaria for 12 countries.
She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Sciences (Bangalore University), Masters in Public Health (Boston University) and PG Diploma in Journalism (London School). She has lived in five countries and has worked in over 30 countries and most of India. She currently serves on the board of the Catalyst Group of Institutions, IDEX Global Accelerator , AIDS Society of Asia and Pacific and Partnership of Maternal Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) a global alliance hosted by the World Health Organization. She is a part of MIT Solve Leadership group and in the Social Participation Technical Network hosted by the WHO.
Angela is a Partner in Swasti having been in the organisation since its inception in 2004 and is responsible for its growth and trajectory. Swasti (Wellbeing in Sanskrit) is a Global South civil society organisation that is committed to adding 100 million ‘well’thy days for Vulnerable Communities. She works to upgrade the discourse from health to well-being and join the missing pieces in wellness together (social, behavioural, management and technology) around the technical/medical aspects, with a strong focus on Prevention and Promotion. Her success is in re-inventing systems to make it work for all, particularly for the vulnerable. Her multidisciplinary teams do two things well – 1. Demonstrate scalable, cost effective and sustainable models in partnership with communities 2. Support partners to reach impact.
Her work loops Policy-Practise-Policy, at sub-national, national, regional and international levels with a range of partners among impact organisations, bilateral, multilateral, government, foundations, academic and corporate bodies. Swasti is a registered not for profit organisation and part of the Catalyst Group of institutions, having worked across 25 countries South Asia, South East Asia and parts of East Africa.
Angela’s brand of action has been the evidence-practice-evidence to advocacy loop. She takes evidence of change from her work strengthening community and health systems , incorporates into program design and takes leadership in resource mobilisation through proposals to Global Fund, and other financing mechanisms.
Core advocacy areas have been sexual reproductive health and rights, WASH, primary health care, and social participation in health governance including meaningful engagement of affected and marginalised populations.
Pavan Srinath is a public policy researcher, educator and podcaster. He hosts The Pragati Podcast and the Thale-Harate Kannada Podcast, both weekly talkshows on public affairs.
With an academic background in the biological sciences, Pavan has worked for 10 years on policy and governance issues of health, cities, budgets, science and technology. Between 2013 and 2019, Pavan helped build the Takshashila Institution as one of India’s top schools of public policy, and helped design, launch and teach various courses.
Pavan has co-authored two books, several policy briefs and journal articles, and writes often for Indian newspapers.