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Harsh Vardhan takes charge as health minister, says focus is on Ayushman Bharat

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Doctor-turned-politician Harsh Vardhan cycled to Nirman Bhawan to take charge as the Union health minister on Monday and said his priority will be to strengthen the implementation of the ambitious Ayushman Bharat programme nationwide.

Vardhan took charge as the health minister almost five years after he was divested of it.

The 64-year-old tweeted that cycling is his favourite sport and shared pictures in which he is seen riding a cycle.

"#Cycling is a simple, affordable, reliable, clean & environmentally sustainable means of transport. #UNGA has declared June 3 as #WorldBicycleDay to underline contribution of cycling to sustainable development goals. It's my fav sport too 2 #BeatAirPollution @UN (sic)."

Listing his priorities, the Union health minister said the government will consider expanding eligibility criteria to include poor and vulnerable people left out of the current list of Pradhan Mantri-Jan Arogya Yojna (PM-JAY), also known as Ayushman Bharat Scheme.

"Since the launch of PM-JAY, around 27 lakh people have availed its benefits but many people are not aware of it," he said.

"We will consider expanding the eligibility criteria to include those poor and vulnerable people who have been left out from the current list of PM-JAY," Vardhan said.

He said efforts will be made to empanel more private hospitals with the scheme and the government will remove bottlenecks to make the scheme more accessible to people.

Next on his list, he said, is to transform 1.5 lakh primary health centres and sub-centres as "health and wellness centres" by 2022 to ensure quality primary care close to community.

More than 18,000 health and wellness centres are operational in 35 states and Union territories.

Vardhan emphasised he will try to make health a "jan andolan (movement)" through people's involvement. He laid emphasis on elimination of TB from India by 2025, and said the government will take concerted and time-bound actions to eliminate leprosy and 'kala-azar'.

He said the government will formulate a "roadmap" to make essential medical devices more accessible and affordable.

"We are committed to leveraging all resources efficiently to ensure the out-of-pocket expenditure on health is reduced and all citizens can avail necessary medical services," he said.

The health minister said the government will take up pending bills like re-organisation of MCI. He said his ministry will try to ensure full immunization coverage by 2022.

The ministry will request for higher budgetary allocation, he said, adding that the focus will be on research and innovation and revisit the policies to make them in tune with present-day needs.

"I am thankful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for trusting me and giving me this responsibility. Health of people is the top priority of Modi government and we will make every effort to achieve healthcare for all," Vardhan said.

He also holds the Science & Technology and Earth Sciences portfolios.

He was previously appointed Union health minister in 2014 and was later given the charge of the Ministries of Earth Sciences and Science and Technology.

J P Nadda held the portfolio in the last cabinet.

Vardhan was given the additional charge of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in May 2017, after the demise of Union minister Anil Madhav Dave.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, June 03 2019. 19:00 IST