March 13, 2010

In a first, Assam to guarantee right to health

A quiet revolution to create a healthier India has kicked off in the east with Assam on Thursday becoming the first state in the country to introduce a bill guaranteeing the right to health and well-being.

Responding to an appeal from the Centre for legislating on health rights, the state government tabled the landmark Assam Public Health Bill, 2010, in the assembly. The bill, which will be put to vote on March 31 and should sail through, proposes path-breaking provisions for health equity and justice to achieve the goal of health for all.

It makes it mandatory for all new development projects to carry out a health impact assessment. It also proposes to make it compulsory for both government and private hospitals to provide free healthcare services and maintain appropriate protocol of treatment for the first 24 hours to an emergency patient.

“Health does not mean just doctors and hospitals, but everything that influences the well-being of a human being. This is a historic bill and we are the pioneers in the country after the Centre requested all states to bring a law on the right to health," said Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

After tabling the bill, Sarma said that the statute sought to bind the state health and family welfare department legally to meet its obligations — coordination with other departments concerned and providing people with minimum nutritionally adequate essential food, adequate supply of safe drinking water, sanitation through appropriate and effective sewage and drainage systems and access to basic housing facilities.

Sarma added that the bill provides for the health and family welfare department to take appropriate legal steps for fixing responsibility and accountability of departments and agencies concerned in case of repeated outbreaks or recurrence of communicable, viral and water-borne diseases, which are found in a particular area and proved to have taken place because of the failure to improve sanitation and safe drinking water facilities.

“Every citizen will have the right to health. In case government hospitals fail to provide medical care because of absence of doctors, the patient will be entitled to remedial measures to be prescribed by the department,’’ he said.

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