Indian People's Health Charter (2000)

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The National Health Assembly held at Kolkata in December 2000 adopted a 20-point charter known as the Indian Peoples Health Charter, outlining a critical analysis of the Indian health scenario in the context of globalisation. This charter provides a statement of the shared understanding and goals that unite all the organisations working as part of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

Complete text

We the people of India, stand united in our condemnation of an iniquitous global system that, under the garb of ‘Globalisation’ seeks to heap unprecedented misery and destitution on the overwhelming majority of the people on this globe. This system has systematically ravaged the economies of poor nations in order to extract profits that nurture a handful of powerful nations and corporations. The poor, across the globe, as well as the sections of poor in the rich nations, are being further marginalised as they are displaced from home and hearth and alienated from their sources of livelihood as a result of the forces unleashed by this system. Standing in firm opposition to such a system we reaffirm our inalienable right to and demand for comprehensive health care that includes food security; sustainable livelihood options including secure employment opportunities; access to housing, drinking water and sanitation; and appropriate medical care for all; in sum - the right to Health For All, Now!

The promises made to us by the international community in the Alma Ata Declaration have been systematically repudiated by the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and its predecessors, the World Health Organisation, and by a government that functions under the dictates of International Finance Capital. The forces ‘Globalisation’ through measures such as the structural adjustment programme are targeting our resources - built up with our labour, sweat and lives over the last fifty years - and placing them in the service of the global "market" for extraction of super-profits. The benefits of the public sector health care institutions, the public distribution system and other infrastructure - such as they were - have been taken away from us. It is the ultimate irony that we are now blamed for our plight, with the argument that it is our numbers and our propensity to multiply that is responsible for our poverty and deprivation. We declare health as a justiciable right and demand the provision of comprehensive health care as a fundamental constitutional right of every one of us. We assert our right to take control of our health in our own hands and for this the right to:

  • A truly decentralized system of local governance vested with adequate power and responsibilities, provided with adequate finances and responsibility for local level planning.
  • A sustainable system of agriculture based on the principle of land to the tiller – both men and women – equitable distribution of land and water, linked to a decentralized public distribution system that ensures that no one goes hungry
  • Universal access to education, adequate and safe drinking water, and housing and sanitation facilities
  • A dignified and sustainable livelihood
  • A clean and sustainable environment
  • A drug industry geared to producing epidemiological essential drugs at affordable cost
  • A health care system which is gender sensitive and responsive to the people's needs and whose control is vested in people’s hands and not based on market defined concept of health care.

Further, we declare our firm opposition to:

  • Agricultural policies attuned to the needs of the ‘market’ that ignore disaggregated and equitable access to food
  • Destruction of our means to livelihood and appropriation, for private profit, of our natural resource bases and appropriation of bio-diversity.
  • The conversion of Health to the mere provision of medical facilities and care that are technology intensive, expensive, and accessible to a select few
  • The retreat, by the government, from the principle of providing free medical care, through reduction of public sector expenditure on medical care and introduction of user fees in public sector medical institutions, that place an unacceptable burden on the poor
  • The corporatisation and commercialization of medical care, state subsidies to the corporate sector in medical care, and corporate sector health insurance
  • Coercive population control and promotion of hazardous contraceptive technology which are directed primarily at the poor and women
  • The use of patent regimes to steal our traditional knowledge and to put medical technology and drugs beyond our reach
  • Institutionalization of divisive and oppressive forces in society, such as communalism, caste, patriarchy, and the attendant violence, which have destroyed our peace and fragmented our solidarity.

In the light of the above we demand that:

1. The concept of comprehensive primary health care, as envisioned in the Alma Ata Declaration should form the fundamental basis for formulation of all policies related to health care. The trend towards fragmentation of health delivery programmes through conduct of a number of vertical programmes should be reversed. National health programmes be integrated within the Primary Health Care system with decentralized planning, decision-making and implementation with the active participation of the community. Focus be shifted from bio-medical and individual based measures to social, ecological and community based measures.

2. The primary health care institutions including trained village health workers, sub-centres, and the PHCs staffed by doctors and the entire range of community health functionaries including the ICDS workers, be placed under the direct administrative and financial control of the relevant level Panchayati Raj institutions. The overall infrastructure of the primary health care institutions be under the control of Panchayats and Gram Sabhas and provision of free and accessible secondary and tertiary level care be under the control of Zilla Parishads, to be accessed primarily through referrals from PHCs.

The essential components of primary care should be:

  • Village level health care based on Village Health Workers selected by the community and supported by the Gram Sabha / Panchayat and the Government health services which are given regulatory powers and adequate resource support
  • Primary Health centres and sub-centres with adequate staff and supplies which provides quality curative services at the primary health centre level itself with good support from referral linkages
  • A comprehensive structure for Primary Health Care in urban areas based on urban PHCs, health posts and Community Health Workers under the control of local self government such as ward committees and municipalities.
  • Enhanced content of Primary Health Care to include all measures which can be provided at the PHC level even for less common or non-communicable diseases (e.g. epilepsy, hypertension, arthritis, pre-eclampsia, skin diseases) and integrated relevant epidemiological and preventive measures
  • Surveillance centers at block level to monitor the local epidemiological situation and tertiary care with all specialty services, available in every district.

3. A comprehensive medical care programme financed by the government to the extent of at least 5% of our GNP, of which at least half be disbursed to panchayati raj institutions to finance primary level care. This be accompanied by transfer of responsibilities to PRIs to run major parts of such a programme, along with measures to enhance capacities of PRIs to undertake the tasks involved.

4. The policy of gradual privatisation of government medical institutions, through mechanisms such as introduction of user fees even for the poor, allowing private practice by Government Doctors, giving out PHCs on contract, etc. be abandoned forthwith. Failure to provide appropriate medical care to a citizen by public health care institutions be made punishable by law.

5. A comprehensive need-based human-power plan for the health sector be formulated that addresses the requirement for creation of a much larger pool of paramedical functionaries and basic doctors, in place of the present trend towards over-production of personnel trained in super-specialties. Major portions of undergraduate medical education, nursing as well as other paramedical training be imparted in district level medical care institutions, as a necessary complement to training provided in medical/nursing colleges and other training institutions. No more new medical colleges to be opened in the private sector. No commodification of medical education. Steps to eliminate illegal private tuition by teachers in medical colleges. At least a year of compulsory rural posting for undergraduate (medical, nursing and paramedical) education be made mandatory, without which license to practice not be issued. Similarly, three years of rural posting after post graduation be made compulsory.

6. The unbridled and unchecked growth of the commercial private sector be brought to a halt. Strict observance of standard guidelines for medical and surgical intervention and use of diagnostics, standard fee structure, and periodic prescription audit to be made obligatory. Legal and social mechanisms be set up to ensure observance of minimum standards by all private hospitals, nursing/maternity homes and medical laboratories. Prevalent practice of offering commissions for referral to be made punishable by law. For this purpose a body with statutory powers be constituted, which has due representation from peoples organisations and professional organisations.

7. A rational drug policy be formulated that ensures development and growth of a self-reliant industry for production of all essential drugs at affordable prices and of proper quality. The policy should, on a priority basis:

  • Ban all irrational and hazardous drugs. Set up effective mechanisms to control the introduction of new drugs and formulations as well as periodic review of currently approved drugs.
  • Introduce production quotas & price ceiling for essential drugs
  • Promote compulsory use of generic names
  • Regulate advertisements, promotion and marketing of all medications based on ethical criteria
  • Formulate guidelines for use of old and new vaccines
  • Control the activities of the multinational sector and restrict their presence only to areas where they are willing to bring in new technology
  • Recommend repeal of the new patent act and bring back mechanisms that prevent creation of monopolies and promote introduction of new drugs at affordable prices
  • Promotion of the public sector in production of drugs and medical supplies, moving towards complete self-reliance in these areas.

8. Medical Research priorities be based on morbidity and mortality profile of the country, and details regarding the direction, intent and focus of all research programmes be made entirely transparent. Adequate government funding be provided for such programmes. Ethical guidelines for research involving human subjects be drawn up and implemented after an open public debate. No further experimentation, involving human subjects, be allowed without a proper and legally tenable informed consent and appropriate legal protection. Failure to do so to be punishable by law. All unethical research, especially in the area of contraceptive research, be stopped forthwith. Women (and men) who, without their consent and knowledge, have been subjected to experimentation, especially with hazardous contraceptive technologies to be traced forthwith and appropriately compensated. Exemplary damages to be awarded against the institutions (public and private sector) involved in such anti-people, unethical and illegal practices in the past.

9. All coercive measures including incentives and disincentives for limiting family size be abolished. The right of families and women within families in determining the number of children they want should be recognized. Concurrently, access to safe and affordable contraceptive measures be ensured which provides people, especially women, the ability to make an informed choice. All long-term, invasive, systemic hazardous contraceptive technologies such as the injectables (NET-EN, Depo-Provera, etc.), sub-dermal implants (Norplant) and anti fertility vaccines should be banned from both the public and private sector. Urgent measure be initiated to shift to onus of contraception away from women and ensure at least equal emphasis on men's responsibility for contraception. Facilities for safe abortions be provided right from the primary health centre level.

10. Support be provided to traditional healing systems, including local and home-based healing traditions, for systematic research and community based evaluation with a view to developing the knowledge base and use of these systems along with modern medicine as part of a holistic healing perspective.

11. Promotion of transparency and decentralization in the decision making process, related to health care, at all levels as well as adherence to the principle of right to information. Changes in health policies to be made only after mandatory wider scientific public debate.

12. Introduction of ecological and social measures to check resurgence of communicable diseases. Such measures should include:

  • Integration of health impact assessment into all development projects
  • Decentralized and effective surveillance and compulsory notification of prevalent diseases like malaria, TB by all health care providers, including private practitioners
  • Reorientation of measures to check STDs/AIDS through universal sex education, promoting responsible safe sex practices, questioning forced disruption and displacement and the culture of commodification of sex, generating public awareness to remove stigma and universal availability of preventive and curative services, and special attention to empowering women and availability of gender sensitive services in this regard.

13. Facilities for early detection and treatment of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancers, heart diseases, etc. to be available to all at appropriate levels of medical care.

14. Women-centred health initiatives that include:

  • Awareness generation for social change on issues of gender and health, triple work burden, gender discrimination in upbringing and life conditions within and outside the family; preventive and curative measures to deal with health consequences of women’s work and violence against women
  • Complete maternity benefits and child care facilities to be provided in all occupations employing women, be they in the organized or unorganized sector
  • Special support structures that focus on single, deserted, widowed women and minority women which will include religious, ethnic and women with a different sexual orientation and commercial sex workers; gender sensitive services to deal with all the health problems of women including reproductive health, maternal health, abortion, and infertility
  • Vigorous public campaign accompanied by legal and administrative action against sex selective abortions including female foeticide, infanticide and sex pre-selection.

15. Child centered health initiatives that include:

  • A comprehensive child rights code, adequate budgetary allocation for universalisation of child care services
  • An expanded & revitalized ICDS programme. Ensuring adequate support to working women to facilitate child care, especially breast feeding
  • Comprehensive measures to prevent child abuse, sexual abuse and child prostitution.
  • Educational, economic and legal measures to eradicate child labour, accompanied by measures to ensure free and compulsory quality elementary education for all children.

16. Special measures relating to occupational and environmental health which focus on:

  • Banning of hazardous technologies in industry and agriculture
  • Worker centered monitoring of working conditions with the onus of ensuring a safe and secure workplace on the management
  • Reorienting medical services for early detection of occupational disease
  • Special measures to reduce the likelihood of accidents and injuries in different settings, such as traffic accidents, industrial accidents, agricultural injuries, etc.

17. The approach to mental health problems should take into account the social structure in India which makes certain sections like women more vulnerable to mental health problems. Mental Health Measures that promote a shift away from a bio-medical model towards a holistic model of mental health. Community support & community based management of mental health problems be promoted. Services for early detection & integrated management of mental health problems be integrated with Primary Health Care and the rights of the mentally ill and the mentally challenged persons to be safe guarded.

18. Measures to promote the health of the elderly by ensuring economic security, opportunities for appropriate employment, sensitive health care facilities and, when necessary, shelter for the elderly. Services that cater to the special needs of people in transit, the homeless, migratory workers and temporary settlement dwellers.

19. Measures to promote the health of physically and mentally disadvantaged by focusing on the abilities rather than deficiencies. Promotion of measures to integrate them in the community with special support rather than segregating them; ensuring equitable opportunities for education, employment and special health care including rehabilitative measures.

20. Effective restriction on industries that promote addictions and an unhealthy lifestyle, like tobacco, alcohol, pan masala etc., starting with an immediate ban on advertising, sponsorship and sale of their products to the young, and provision of services for de-addiction.

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