SPEECH BY HER EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA, SHRIMATI PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL, AT THE 37TH ANNUAL CONVOCATION OF THE ALL INDIA INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL SCIENCES (AIIMS)
New Delhi, 16th November, 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen, and
I am, indeed, very happy to be here at the 37th Annual Convocation of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The Institute was established in 1956 with the objective to develop high standards of medical education in the country. It is now known for its comprehensive facilities for teaching, research and patient care. I am sure all those who have been associated with its growth have a justifiable sense of pride.
I congratulate the students who have received their degrees and honours today. You represent some of the best talent in the country, from one of the finest medical institutions. The nation values you as a highly skilled human resource with great potential to contribute to building the "brain bank" of India and to creating a better society.
In the context of the 21st Century, a strong human development index, which includes good health parameters, is an absolutely necessity for the economic progress of our nation. Our demographic dividend will be realized with the steps that we take to empower our citizens. Providing them adequate health services alongwith equipping them with knowledge and skills will unleash their productive and creative potential.
As you begin your careers, you would no doubt be aware about the health sector scenario in India in terms of its challenges and its promise. The national objective of inclusive growth extends into the medical field to mean inclusive health, which means providing accessible, affordable and quality healthcare to all. I am confident that all stakeholders - Central and State Governments and well as the private sector will contribute to this endeavour.
The doctor to patient ratio is about one is to one thousand five hundred, while the recommended ratio is one is to two hundred and fifty. Aware of this situation, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is making efforts to bring in path breaking changes to overcome the acute shortage of doctors, nurses and medical personnel in the health sector. Some of these measures include facilitation for setting-up of more medical colleges that will include AIIMS-like institutions, paramedical training institutes and increasing the number of specialists. As part of the effort to increase the number of medical doctors, I think that big hospitals in our country which are visited by a significant number of out-door patients and have a large number of beds as well as speciality centres and faculty members, can be considered as locations for setting up medical colleges. These can be established, with minimal effort, and expenditure within the existing hospital campus, by either setting aside space or constructing an additional block for a medical college, or finding new premises.
There is an acute shortage of doctors in rural areas. Millions of our brethren living in villages have little access to quality medical care. I am happy that to bridge this basic gap in our health sector, Government has launched the National Rural Health Mission to provide quality healthcare in the remotest corners of the country. I am told that since its launch the Mission has added over 7 lakh ASHAs, over 70,000 ANMs and Nurses and over 15,000 MBBS and AYUSH doctors to the public healthcare system. Work should be undertaken with greater zeal for the success of this Mission. I am confident that under the leadership of Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Minister for Health and Family Welfare, rapid strides would be made.
I urge young doctors of the country to devote some years of their professional lives to working in rural areas by responding positively to the call of the Government to take up rural postings, which are very important. Undoubtedly, all of you have certain career goals which are important. At the same time you also have social responsibilities and a duty towards nation building. By serving in rural areas not only would you be doing good work for the nation, but the stint will be a valuable addition to your professional experience. It would also be an opportunity to get to know your country more closely and you are needed there the most.
We should also look at using technology in our mission of health for all. The use of tele-medicine must be encouraged, as this has been found to be one of the most cost effective ways of servicing a large number of patients some of whom may not always be accessible through conventional primary health facilities. It also helps in knowledge sharing between different hospitals and doctors.
New dimensions are evident in the field of health and disease in the world and in India. The healthcare systems must be equipped to respond to these emergent situations. In recent times, we have seen the outbreak of HIV/AIDS, avian flu, SARS, mad-cow disease and most recently swine flu. All these are the result of new viruses that are mutating and generating new strains of infections. In a world where people travel more frequently between nations, these infections spread far and wide. Our healthcare system not only needs to respond rapidly to these new infections, but also has to co-ordinate efforts between nations and at the national and state levels.
A glance at the developing disease scenario in India shows that the number of those suffering from diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases is on the rise, essentially because of changing lifestyles. Our health system, therefore, will have to assume the responsibility of not only treating people but also advising and guiding them about how to deal and indeed, prevent some of these medical conditions. Also, I am told that according to a report in 2006, in India more than one lakh people died in road accidents. Medical institutions need to gear themselves up to deal with patients who are undergoing treatment due to traumatic events such as accidents, those caught up in natural disasters or suffering from trauma on account of any reason. Always, but particularly in life threatening situations, people look at doctors as next to God. Cicero, an ancient philosopher, rightly remarked that in nothing do human beings more nearly approach the Gods, than in giving health to humankind. This is your work - a noble and a humane calling and should be undertaken with compassion and care.
India's health sector is projected to become the largest service undertaking in the country. Our doctors have the capability and the dedication to bring excellence to the profession and to the healthcare infrastructure. This is evident from the high standard of medical care and talent in the medical science field in India, along with comparative cost advantages, that has resulted in the country becoming a destination for medical treatment. India is now viewed as one of the important hubs for medical tourism, with patients coming from many countries for medical purposes.
Due to our large population, government hospitals have the benefit of treating a large variety of cases and therefore, have many clinical cases on record. This is a rich data base which can be used for research. Research has been fundamental in finding cures for many diseases, as also for improving the understanding of the functioning of the human body. There have been many revolutionary discoveries, but yet the field is wide open for further work. We have entered the age of laser surgery and already there is talk of robotic surgery. In bio-technology and stem cell research there is huge scope for investigations and findings, in addition to many other fields, which we may not even know today. It is for scientists to discover them.
Research is exciting but also a very demanding activity. Louis Pasteur, who did pioneering work in microbes, and in popular perception is associated with the pasteurization process, once said that the secret of his success and his strength lay solely in his tenacity. Research also requires a sharp sense of observation. When asked as to how he discovered penicillin, Alexander Fleming said that it started as a chance observation, and as a bacteriologist, his only merit was that he did not neglect the observation and he pursued it as a subject of investigation. I recall this with a view to urge continued work in the field of research. I am told that the faculty and the researchers in AIIMS publish about 1,500 papers annually. As a centre of excellence, AIIMS should aim to create an extraordinary knowledge base for innovation, even as it attends to high patient loads at AIIMS most of who come from far off villages, looking to you as the only source and hope of treating their loved ones.
I am confident that in the years to come AIIMS will work on these issues, so that this Institute shall continue to maintain its high traditions and its reputation of being par excellence. I wish the doctors, faculty members and all others working in AIIMS, my good wishes.