Novel initiative

Assam is set to become the first state in the country to legally guarantee the right to health to all residents of the state. A bill has been introduced for the purpose in the state assembly and it ensures all people will have access to health care and physical well being.

It provides for health equity and justice for all citizens and has set a goal of achievement of health for all. All development projects are mandated to carry out health impact assessments and the results of the assessments will have to be respected. The bill also makes it compulsory for all hospitals, both in the government and private sectors, to provide free health care services, maintaining appropriate protocols of treatment, for the first 24 hours to an emergency patient. The bill will also bind the state to its obligations with respect to public health, like minimum nutritional food, supply of safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities.

It is a tall responsibility that the state is seeking to undertake. The absence of an enabling law is the not the reason for the poor state of health delivery facilities in state, and in the country. Finances have been a major problem. But utilisation of funds, efficient delivery of services and creation of health awareness among the people have posed greater challenges. The high cost of health care and  inadequate infrastructure have made access to services difficult. All these problems will remain but the bill marks a commitment on the part of the state to provide basic and essential health care to the people and a readiness to be accountable for it. The bill has comprehensive provisions that cover the responsibilities of government departments, mandate processes and mechanisms to realise its aims and point to the entitlements of the citizens that flow from their right.

Implementation of the legislation will be much harder. The government will have to spend a lot of resources if the right has to become a reality for the people. But it is a welcome initiative which will hopefully make the right to health more and more real for the people in the course of time. The Centre had asked all states to work in that direction. Assam has taken a pioneering step which other states should follow.

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