New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) will now provide technical support to India for government’s ambitious scheme Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY).

Under the WHO-India Cooperation Strategy 2019–2023 announced on Wednesday, the apex health agency will support the union and selected state governments in implementing and scaling up the government’s newly established and planned initiatives and programmes. As AB-PMJAY aims to provide Universal Health Coverage (UHC), the WHO under its strategy will help in accelerating the progress on the front.

The WHO will help to turn the blueprints for Ayushman Bharat into action, starting in a few states. In these states, WHO will guide policy discussions and assist in designing, testing and evaluating the implementation of the PMJAY hospital insurance programme; the establishment of the new Health and Wellness Centres; and the setting up of linkages between these primary care facilities and higher levels of care to ensure continuum of care.

“The focus will be on equitable access and all aspects of health service delivery. The WHO will help in implementation of the Ayushman Bharat health sector reforms that are aimed at expanding access to quality primary health care services and providing financial protection for those requiring hospital care – to strengthening health systems, including human resources for health and electronic information systems," said Harsh Vardhan, minister of health and family welfare.

A key aim of WHO’s support will be to identify and document successful models of service delivery, best practices and lessons learnt to inform the design of these reforms in other states. The WHO and health ministry officials will also be looking at the challenges in implementing the reforms. “Key challenges in implementing these reforms will include drawing people to the Health and Wellness Centres, given the poor utilization of public sector services in many areas, and developing workable referral systems to prevent PMJAY beneficiaries from bypassing primary care facilities altogether and creating bottlenecks in hospitals," the strategy document said.

“Attracting patients to the Health and Wellness Centres and other public sector primary health-care facilities will hinge on their ability to offer a range of high-quality services. Towards this aim, WHO will be supporting the development of a methodology for defining, coding and pricing of benefit packages based on local and global evidence and will support the Department of Health Research in conducting health technology assessment," the document said.

“We are geared to step-up to leverage opportunities and address challenges to ensure maximum public health impact," Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India said.

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