A dogged Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss overcame stiff resistance from the tobacco lobby to press ahead with a ban on smoking and stepped up his campaign during the year against junk food.
The smoking ban, a pet project of the health minister, was put into effect from October 2 and covered almost all public places, including hotels, restaurants, pubs, offices and international airports. While a majority of states were enthusiastic about implementing the ban, few like Maharashtra and Bihar showed reluctance in doing so.
The health minister ran into a war of words with many personalities while bringing the ban into effect, including actor Shahrukh Khan, who advised him to concentrate on other issues of importance like rural health.
In a tongue and cheek comment, Khan said on October 2, "it is a good step to make sure that the country is smoke free. Better step would be to ban cigarettes, make them illegal and hang any one who is smoking. We cannot do that as we are a democratic country."
Ramadoss also advised West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya to quit smoking at least in the Writers' Building besides observing that mega star Amitabh Bachchan should stop on-screen smoking. Any violation of the ban on smoking in public places is a punishable offence with fine up to Rs 200.
With lifestyle diseases like diabetes and strokes emerging as the new health emergencies in the country, the Ministry launched the National Programme for Prevention and control of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke in 10 states on a pilot basis early this year.
The health minister said the government would soon make it mandatory for companies manufacturing fast food to display their nutrient contents on the packets.
Apart from the ban on smoking, the government has set up 18 tobacco cessation centres in 17 states across the country to help users to quit tobacco addiction.
The government also launched the pilot phase of the National Tobacco Control Programme in 18 Districts of nine states during the year 2007-08.
Concerned over the devastating effects of tobacco on the country's health, Ramadoss asked Finance Minister P Chidambaram to increase the taxes of all tobacco products.
In a letter to the Finance Minister, Ramadoss asked him to raise excise duties on cigarettes, bidis and other tobacco products in the coming budget so that higher prices can act as a deterrent for tobacco users.
Among the many schemes, the Health Minister also promised to soon start regular screening of beneficiaries of the Central Government Health Scheme and make yoga mandatory for them.
Focusing on the need for firming up health facilities in urban areas, the government also announced the launch of a country-wide urban health mission which will include provisions for free health insurance for nearly six crore slum dwellers.
A Group of Ministers headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee cleared Scorpion and Lungs as the pictorial warnings to be displayed on packets of cigarettes and other tobacco products. But the implementation of these had been held up because of a case contesting the same in the Himachal Pradesh High Court.
Reports of the death of some infants in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences during clinical trials created a furore and the health ministry reassured that such trials would not be permitted in the country.
The death of four children in Tamil Nadu after being administered the polio vaccine came as a setback to the immunisation drive. This led the government to order a major revamp of the immunisation programme, as it decided to shut down three vaccine producing Public Sector Units and to depend on private sector for its vaccine demand.
The units namely Central Research Institute, Kasauli, Pasteur Institute of India, Coonoor and BCG laboratory, Guindy, do not meet up to the standards set by the Schedule M of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act or the Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines of the World Health Organisation.
The government had asked these units to upgrade in order to comply with the global standards, failing which it was decided to stop production in these units and involve the private sector in this initiative, he said.
The government is also planning to re-engineer its National Immunisation Programme by introducing pentavalent vaccines in place of the existing trivalent one to provide protection against more diseases. In a controversial announcement, Ramadoss said doctors with MBBS degrees who plan to pursue Post Graduate courses in any medical discipline may have to complete a compulsory one-year stint in rural areas from next year. The ministry forwarded the proposal for clearance to the Medical Council of India.
However, students applying for PG courses in anatomy, bio-chemistry, physiology and others would be spared. Earlier, the Ministry had come out with the same proposal but was forced to roll it back after students protested.
The year began on a good note for the Ministry with the budgetary allocation rising by a huge margin. The Planning Commission, on its part, outlayed Rs 1660.50 crore in the 11th Five Year Plan.
The National Rural Health Mission, launched in April 2005, was the central feature which saw the maximum budgetary allocation. Major projects were also initiated in the areas of reproductive and child health, control of non-communicable disease and AIDS control.
More than 5.4 lakh Accredited Social Health Activists and link workers have been connected to health facilities via the NRHM.
Apart from this, major schemes were undertaken to improve the health of women and children. As per National Family Health Survey III of 2005-06, Child Mortality Rate is at 18, down from 29 in NFHS-II in 1997-98.
Maternal Mortality Rate as per Sample Registration Survey has declined from 398 per hundred thousand in 1997-98 to 301 in (2001-03).