88 million visit Ayushman centres since February

Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) set up under the Centre’s flagship Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana have recorded 88 million footfalls since February 1 despite restrictions from late March on movement due to the lockdown imposed to fight the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), according to Union health minister. They have played a key role in providing non-Covid services to patients within the community, he added.

HWCs are the primary pillar of the flagship scheme that aims to provide universal and comprehensive primary health care. The government aims to set up 1,50,000 HWCs by converting some of the existing sub-health and primary health centres by 2022.

Health checkups have been conducted at these grassroots-level centres and people screened and treated for hypertension, diabetes and certain cancers, according to the health ministry. Teams associated with the scheme have also helped local administrations in screening and conducting wellness sessions for migrants, who returned to their homes after losing jobs due to the Covid-19 lockdown, at quarantine centres.

“Since there were teams deployed on the ground, it made sense to make use of the trained manpower to screen people housed at various quarantine centres set up at the peripheries of villages. This helped in assessing the health status of a large population base in a short span of time,” said a health ministry official, requesting anonymity.

Nearly 14.1 million individuals were screened at the 41,000 centres across the country for hypertension, 11.3 million for diabetes and 13.4 million for oral, breast or cervical cancer, according to the ministry. Medicines were distributed at these centres among about 5,62,000 hypertension and 3,77,000 diabetes patients in June alone. From January to June, an additional 12,425 HWCs were made operational. The addition increased the number of these centres from 29,365 to 41,790, according to health ministry.

“Having undertaken population-based screenings for non-communicable diseases, HWC teams already have a list of those with chronic disease and are able to rapidly screen individuals with co-morbidities and provide advice for protection against infection,” said a Union health ministry statement on Friday.

HCW teams are also conducting immunisation and medical checkups of pregnant women and delivering essential medicines to tuberculosis, leprosy, hypertension and diabetic patients. “Health and Wellness Centres have demonstrated that creation of strong primary health care systems closer to the community is critical to the delivery of essential primary health care services to the community while also responding to the challenge of managing a pandemic,” the ministry added in the statement.

The centres have also been creating awareness about measures such as frequent hand washing, wearing of masks and social distancing for preventing Covid-19 infections.

Experts say establishing HCWs in villages is the best way to ensure health for all. “Historically, we have neglected primary health care, and by focusing on HCWs, now, it is a journey in the right direction to build positive health,” said CS Pandav, a former head of the community medicine department at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

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