The primary time that I met Keshav Desiraju was when he was Union well being secretary and I used to be the director of the Tuberculosis Analysis Centre. We had been having a dialogue on challenges within the TB management programme. What struck me was that he might get to the center of the issue instantly, that he might establish what the bottlenecks in implementation had been after which search for options in a constructive method. The second factor that I seen was that he was a really inclusive individual, within the sense that he didn’t pay attention solely to individuals in positions of energy or behave in a hierarchical means, but additionally paid heed to civil society teams, activists, NGOs and sufferers teams. He recognised the significance of all voices to find an answer, significantly for a illness like tuberculosis the place social and behavioural points are crucial. His dedication to fairness and social justice shone by way of.
He took many initiatives when he was Union well being secretary. One which stands out is the event of the nationwide psychological well being coverage. And once more the best way he did that was very totally different. He used individuals with hands-on expertise and NGOs to develop that nationwide psychological well being coverage. So, it was not achieved high down however fairly it was achieved backside up.
That will likely be an enduring contribution as psychological well being continues to be a uncared for downside in India and globally. Whereas the coverage nonetheless wants full implementation, the event of such an in depth district-level plan was a serious nationwide and international landmark.
Keshav was additionally instrumental within the creation of the Nationwide Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI). That is the group that does coverage making on immunisation, the nationwide professional group that decides on which vaccines ought to go into the nationwide programme. From being a fairly advert hoc affair, the NTAGI was arrange in a means that selections can be clear and primarily based on knowledge and proof, with technical sub-committees, which might study the issue. The committee was co-chaired by the well being secretary, secretary, well being analysis and secretary and division of biotechnology, and it had a lot of totally different specialists, together with a few of the critics of the nationwide immunisation programme.
This course of gave all an opportunity to be a part of the discussions and categorical their views, after which selections can be primarily based on consensus. That was a novel and revolutionary means of dealing with a delicate matter the place all voices had been heard, however selections had been primarily based on science.
I consider that Keshav additionally strengthened the governance of the Nationwide Well being Mission, which was nonetheless in its adolescence. Keshav believed in listening to voices from the neighborhood and being responsive.
I might say he was an excellent coverage maker, who not solely created visionary insurance policies, but additionally noticed that they had been applied. He was a person of impeccable integrity and took a tricky stance on tobacco and different industrial determinants of well being. He was additionally attempting to streamline medical schooling on the time when he was secretary.
After he retired, I had been in contact with him and labored intently with him on a lot of totally different initiatives, the place he was serving in an advisory function, a number of of them round psychological well being. Residing in Tamil Nadu, which has a number of NGOs engaged on psychological well being, he was intently concerned and useful, because it was one thing he was very obsessed with. He was additionally serving in advisory function to some WHO departments, together with the Alliance for Well being Coverage and Techniques Analysis, the place he introduced a really distinctive perspective as any person who had been a coverage maker and a call maker, and who understood the significance of well being system analysis for a coverage maker. He was as a result of end his time period on the board of the Alliance in December. So, that’s one other space the place he’s going to be very sorely missed.
There’s a flagship report referred to as Studying Well being Techniques, which goes to be launched on Monday. And he had a serious function to play in creating this report. He additionally had an essential function to play in creating the following 5 years’ technique of the Alliance and that technique can be being finalised now.
(Dr Swaminathan is the chief scientist of World Well being Organisation)
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