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India more focused about healthcare reforms: USAID chief

March 20, 2013 11:37 IST

United States Agency for International Development’s Administrator Dr Raj Shah has said the public-private partnerships the USAID has been pushing for in India has overcome much of the notorious entrenched bureaucratic hurdles and red tape that has hitherto been a bane to development, particularly in alleviating acute health care deficiencies in the system.
In a review of his recent trip to India and Myanmar -- at a roundtable meeting with a small group of journalists at the Foreign Press Centre in Washington -- Shah said, “It has been clear to us that this public-private partnership model has enabled the government to be more focused and effective and enabled American and Indian American institutions and partners to join the effort.”
“So the two examples I would offer are this call to eliminate preventable child death, which now includes as the official UN Ambassador to that task Mukesh Ambani from Reliance Enterprises and a number of other business leaders.  And because of their involvement, we sense that the Indian government, which has a lot of motivation and leadership on this, is even more focused on doing this work in a results-oriented way and breaking through the bureaucracy.”
Shah noted, “In fact, the state leaders of the plan to eliminate preventable child death from all of the high-burden states in India came to Mumbai and presented their plans and programmes to me during the visit.  I was very impressed with the businesslike approach they are taking to measure and report on results.  They now each have report cards where they publicly document the reduction in preventable child death year on year.”
On India’s role as an emerging development partner, Shah recalled that President Barack Obama had made a number of commitments during his visit to India and declared, “I am pleased to say there has been real progress.  While I was in India, there were more than 200 African agricultural fellows training and learning in Indian universities.  That is a direct result of the Partnership for an Evergreen Revolution that we launched between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh.”
He also said, “Indian-developed agricultural technologies are spreading across the region with our support and in partnership with us in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and that’s helping to move millions of people out of a condition of hunger and extreme poverty. We have partnered with the group called SEWA in India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, to work with their Afghan counterparts and ensure that as this important transition happens in Afghanistan.” 
Asked what the USAID was doing in tangible terms to enforce his reiteration of Washington’s commitment to end preventable child death in India and also female infanticide, Shah said, “We are working with the government of India and with a host of private sector partners to address preventable child death in a holistic manner.”

He pointed out, “When Permanent Secretary (J V Prasada) Rao presented the state-by-state plans and measures of success, one of the goals that they measure is addressing the gap in -- or addressing the very stark reality that girls are discriminated against in many different areas, and especially the critical issues with respect to girl infanticide and other issues.”
“So that is very much a part of their programme,” he said, but noted, “I would just point out that our role isn’t necessarily to fully fund these programme.  Our role, in this new model, is to bring the kinds of public-private partnerships to bear so that India can be successful in its own effort in this regard.  And we are excited that that appears to be working.”
In terms of how he would see the USAID’s relationship with India evolving in the next four years of the Obama administration, Shah continued to emphasise the public-private partnership as permeating the relationship.
“I hope, as we see more of these types of technology partnerships in particular yield real results, that we will work together and share the burden together of bringing those solutions to many other parts of the world,” he said.
In his opening remarks, in offering a synopsis of what permeated his visit to India, Shah said, “We focused on an effort to turn our traditional programme there into an innovation laboratory that can help address the effort to end extreme poverty inside India, but also bring Indian resources and talent and entrepreneurship to Africa, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and a number of other settings as India takes more responsibility on the global stage for ending extreme poverty and its consequences in other parts of the world.”
“We focused our efforts in health, agriculture, and energy, the three priorities we have established for working with India as an innovation laboratory.  And we were able to document progress on some important initiatives,” he said. 

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC