Every year April 7 is celebrated as a World Health Day to remind the world leaders about their responsibilities towards the provision of affordable and accessible healthcare services. It is a day to put into perspective the importance of collaborative and coordinated efforts to make for a healthy society.

Health does not come naturally. Preventive care and timely intervention to treat diseases are important steps towards a healthy being. One becomes healthy by choice. The choice to eat nutritious food, exercising daily and taking adequate rest to keep the body from accumulating unnecessary fat that causes high blood pressure and strains the heart. Giving rest to one’s body is not about sleep only; it is also about not putting your body through the agony of digesting toxic stuff and food high in fat. Medical science has advanced to the extent of only improving quality of life while diseased. The cure actually lies in adopting preventive measures, and in having access to the primary healthcare so as to proverbially nip the evil in the bud.

The timings of this year’s World Health Day could not have been more propitious because of the World Conference on Primary Healthcare in Astana, Kazakhstan in October 2018 and the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage, to be held in New York in September 2019. Both the events are a great opportunity to reinforce the call for Universal Health and the role of Primary Healthcare to achieve it. Moreover, the aim is to make the policymakers recognize their responsibility to control the burden of diseases for which the provision of affordable, accessible, and ubiquitous primary healthcare services are essential. The enigma of choosing between spending on healthcare or meeting daily expenses is putting on stake the future of the nation. For a government to put its people through this quandary is synonymous to waging a war against their fundamental rights to live a healthy, decent, enlightened, and stable life.

Primary Healthcare is a broad concept that seeks for its implementation a wide canvass to accommodate the following features:

•    Community Participation: Everybody, from an individual to families to communities at large, is responsible to plan, implement, and maintain healthcare services.

•    Equity: Ensuring healthcare services to all without discriminating on gender, age, ethnicity, or location.

•    Intersectoral Collaboration: The health sector draws on the energy, judgment, functioning, and coordination of other government departments such as education, agriculture, finance, information, media, etc.

•    Appropriate Use of Technology: A functioning health sector is the one that provides for affordable and accessible medical technology.

The last seven years, since the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC) has been developed to enforce the Punjab Healthcare Commission Act 2010, have seen a marked difference in the quality of healthcare services delivered throughout Punjab. The locus of this quality drive has been compliance with the Minimum Service Delivery Standards (MSDS) that the Commission had developed in coordination and collaboration with all the stakeholders in the health sector with a purpose to make the activity all-encompassing and inclusive.

Before the arrival of the Commission to regulate the health sector in Punjab, the condition of the healthcare establishments (HCEs) had been dismal, to say the least. Beside inadequate healthcare facilities, the element of ‘care’ was conspicuously absent, that had inflicted the environment of health sector with a general sense of carelessness and indifference. The public health sector was the hardest hit by this attitude. For the private health sector, it was an opportunity to amass fortune without bothering about quality. In between this mess developed a large swathe of quackery, to wreak havoc with the lives of the people.

Stopping the monster of quackery from getting any bigger and dangerous was the real challenge for the PHC. Going systematically, first a comprehensive mapping of all the healthcare establishments through a census was carried out. Then an independent anti-quackery cell was created followed by an enforcement team to raid and seal quackery outlets across Punjab. Supported by Information Communication Technology in the forms of application to store and retrieve data on anti-quackery, the drive against quacks has been made more expeditious and rewarding.

Punjab Healthcare Commission has conducted a record number of inspections across Punjab to check compliance levels. Moreover, actions have been taken in cases where administrative failure and negligence were reported. Below is a snapshot in numbers about the PHC’s performance to date.

1.  Over 55,939 HCEs had been registered.

2.  Almost 38,597 HCEs had been given provincial licenses.

3.  Over 23,657 HCEs had been trained on MSDS.

4.  Exactly 18,518 inspections had been conducted

5.  Investigation of 1,593 complaints had been completed

6.  Total 19,007 quackery outlets had been sealed.

Other than these hardcore, tangible, and coarse regulatory functions, the Commission has been carrying out soft tasks of creating awareness about various infectious, contagious and deadly diseases, among the masses, the doctors and all the concerned people attached to the delivery of health services.

There is no short cut to a healthy life. World Health Day and the efforts of institutions like the PHC can only go so long as to recognize and help implement best practices in the health sector. Making these efforts sustainable and responsive by putting in the ‘right investment’ in the health sector is the responsibility of the government.