Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, left today for Barcelona, Spain, where he will deliver the keynote address at the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s symposium on Tuberculosis (TB) entitled “Moving out of the Box to end Global TB epidemic: with post-2015 strategy.” In his address to international health experts, Dr Harsh Vardhan will stress the importance of community driven solutions to TB, the disease which is considered the biggest killer worldwide. Its incidence is the highest in India, a country which reports 230 cases per 1 lakh population. During his four-day stay in Spain, the Minister will also address delegates at the 45th World Conference on Lung Health. He will meet with the Health Minister of South Africa, Mr Aaron Motsoaledi, along with representatives of the STOP TB Partnership & Results. He will also co-chair a high-level meeting of the BRICS forum with Mr Motsoaledi.
Discussions on a possible Memorandum of Understanding on sharing of knowledge on organ donation with Spain, the country with the highest rate of organ donation, are also on the cards. During a day-long trip to Madrid, Dr Harsh Vardhan will also hold a meeting with his Spanish counterpart, Ms Ana Mato. “I look forward to this visit because I have already geared up the Ministry to accept the challenge of eliminating the TB scourge and meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) by 2015,” the Minister said before leaving. He said he would highlight the need for building up community-led action strategies for fighting TB in all parts of the world, including India. “The highest priority accorded to our anti-TB drive by making mandatory notification of TB cases, banning of commercial serological diagnostic tests for TB, web-based notification and tracking of cases, restriction of open market sales of TB drugs and prevention of irrational use, have already caught the imagination of global experts,” the Minister pointed out.
Another significant aspect of the Minister’s tour is his using the forum to unambiguously state India’s opposition to e-cigarette marketing and consumption as research has shown that it eventually leads to more people surrendering to tobacco. During his half-hour-long address to global tobacco control experts Dr Harsh Vardhan will spell out his agreement with the need for a ban of the so-called “Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems” – or e-cigarettes. This meeting is expected to attract about 3,000 delegates from more than 125 countries. Traditionally, the forum offers them a chance to share experiences and build up collaborative advocacy tools and campaigns.
Dr Harsh Vardhan has already attracted international attention for advocating the highest ever tax hike on tobacco products as implemented through the Union Budget 2014-15. In fact the symposia agenda planned for the event is expected to include “The impact of cigarette tax increases on tobacco consumption in India”. Organ donation, which is highest in Spain, will also feature in his tour agenda. On Thursday, the Minister will move to the Spanish capital of Madrid to discuss the possibilities of a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Transplant Organisation of the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality of Spain.