PM launches Public Health Foundation

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today launched the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a public-private initiative that aims to strengthen the country's public health system. It will establish five world-class public health institutes, each of which will train more than 1,000 public health professionals annually. It will also be a think tank for research on critical health policy issues.

Today's launch was attended by Indian and international public health academicians, multilateral agencies, civil society groups, private health foundations and Indian corporates.

Singh in his remarks today regretted that the public sector's record in providing health care has been poor. Noting that the private sector was the "dominant" source of health care in the country, he said that "on the whole, the record of the public sector in health care provisioning in India has not been very good''.

"We are all familiar with reports of unethical practices, including commissions given in return for referral and diagnostic work. We must have appropriate measures to tackle this," he said.

With Nobel laureate Amartya Sen by his side, Singh said that the foundation would present an opportunity to develop innovative models of such partnerships in social sector programmes. ''Such partnerships can help blend the commitment of the government with the operational efficiency of not-for-profit private groups," he said, citing the examples of Dr Devi Shetty's hospitals and Dr V Shantha's Cancer Institute in Chennai.

''In many areas of social development, the problem was not a lack of ideas, but on the contrary, institutions have failed to deliver,'' Singh said.

While the idea of establishing schools of public health in India has long been discussed and reported, the PHFI initiative has been collaboratively developed over the last two years under the leadership of Rajat Gupta of McKinsey, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Srinath Reddy, head of the Department of Cardiology at AIIMS. McKinsey has supported the PHFI in a pro bono capacity. Describing the initiative as a "great moment", Sen said that though India had had great successes in many areas in medicine, it was still to make its mark in areas like the delivery of healthcare to poor.

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