Being grandson of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri, Sidharth Nath Singh, health minister of the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh, has a political lineage that one can be proud of. He chose the saffron brigade over the Congress and describes himself as being Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Experiment Boy’, that says a lot about his political acumen. A politician who occupies one of the top slots in Uttar Pradesh cabinet, Singh also wears another cap of being one of BJP’s official spokespersons in the state. In an exclusive interview Kulsum Mustafa discusses with him his party’s work in the health sector in its first year of governance.
How does it feel to be responsible for the health of 200 million inhabitants of the most populous state of India ?
I confess it is no easy task, especially when you are burdened with the inept handling of the medical policies of the previous government. But on the flip side it provides my government a full chance of improving the system, revamping it to the core. Our government has spent the first few months in just clearing the mess left by the previous government. This includes handling shortage of doctors, medicines and a collapsed purchase department. We focused initially on setting the house in order. It is only now that we are able to think of doing things. To put it simply, we started with correction and are now are focused on creating.
Uttar Pradesh has been rated the lowest on the health index by the Niti Aayog. Your take on this.
The evaluation report pertains to 2016 and our government came to power in March 2017. So it is clear that the poor performance does not pertain to our period of governance. However, I add that the report findings have disturbed us immensely. Our Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ji is unhappy with the state of affairs in the medical sector. He is deeply concerned and committed to improving the health parameters of the people of Uttar Pradesh. We are prepared to work with greater force and urgency and are commitment to set things right at the earliest. I am confident UP will climb up the ladder of ratings soon.
After just a few months in power, your ministry faced a lot of flak because 61 infants died in three days at the state-run Gorakhpur Medical College allegedly due to non-availability of oxygen in the ICU.
It was a human tragedy and it affected me deeply. I felt for the families who lost their little ones. I faced one of the most heart-wrenching situations which shook me to the core. But it was a situation when the inhuman face of the Opposition became more visible. Their attempt to politicize the entire thing made me angry. This act was not only unforgiveable but also highly shameful. The media is also to blame for playing along with the Opposition and not doing factual reporting.
What do you have to say on reports of a quack infecting 58 persons with the deadly HIV virus allegedly through a contaminated syringe in Bangarmau town of in Unnao district.?
Again, the incident was highly misreported by the media which just blew things out of proportion. Sanjeeva Kumar, director general, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), has clearly stated that the life of
HIV virus, when exposed to sunlight, is just 60 seconds. Therefore, it is not possible that the quack could have infected such a large number by the use of a single contaminated syringe. However, stray infections are possible. Moreover, Unnao has a large migrant population and high-risk behaviour such as unprotected sex are the main causes for the high number of HIV cases reported from Unnao. This is the conclusion of the NACO report by the fact-finding team that visited the district on February 7.
Did your health department do anything to inform the correct facts to the
Of course we did. We tried to tell them that medically this is not possible, but majority of them ignored these facts and kept on their sensationalizing spree . Honestly speaking, both Gorakhpur and Unnao incidents were highly mishandled by the media. The Press highly misreported. They refused to report facts and only created a scare. Unnao is a high risk district and that is why screening camps are held here. UPSACS data says that HIV prevalence in 2017-2018 is 0.39 per cent. The state average is 0.22 while India’s HIV prevalence is 0.28 per cent. HIV testing is voluntary and we cannot force anyone to get tested. You must not forget that these camps where these infected persons were detected were organized by the government.
Why would the entire media report in a set manner?
Chiefly because sensitization is more appealing. It gets you more TRPs, more readership, it increases popularity of your brand. That is why despite our efforts the media chose to bypass facts and underplayed the correct medical versions given by the government simply because it did not make news.
Your take on doctors’ transfers, lack of specialists.
We created a proper transfer and posting policy which is pro-active. There is a logic and system. In case this is violated anywhere we ensure a dialogue. Our party respects the medical fraternity’s role in creating a healthy state. In less then a year we have appointed 1,000 doctors.
What are your plans to make Uttar Pradesh more healthy?
Uttar Pradesh is poised to have a comprehensive Health Policy soon. It will be based on monitoring and accountability and will deal with everything that concerns the health of people of the state. Like I said before the corrective measures have been enforced and now we will work towards creation of a foolproof system. Monitoring and accountability will be the twin words that will govern the medical system in the state and will have to be strictly followed. After we came to power, the first and vital issue was to establish a transparent and proactive transfer and posting policy. The immediate step was to create a Chief Medical Officer (CMO) selection panel. The next step was to create a proper purchase department. Last and the least was to have a relook at the Human Resource.
You have labeled yourself as the ‘Experiment Boy’ of PM Modi. Please elaborate.
The constituency I represent, Allahabad West, was galore with caste and communal politics. Being chosen to represent this constituency was a big challenge. I felt I had been chosen as an ‘experiment boy’ by Modi ji. My victory would not be just of an individual but one where the voters have voted for a change. By voting me to power the people have proved that they need a change, they needed a breath of fresh air and want the dirt to be replaced with clean, honest politics. My victory has diluted the politics of caste and communal factors.