Cover story

Tackling the NCDs blight

Technology offers scalable solutions in healthcare and nowhere is the need greater than in the fight against noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, heart ailments, tuberculosis and diabetes. Vishal Chauhan, joint secretary with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, shares how the Trusts have been able to support the government in the pan-India NCD screening programme

Vishal Chauhan

Why did the government decide to partner Tata Trusts on the NCD screening project?

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are currently the leading cause of death and disability in India, accounting for around 5.8 million or 61% of all deaths annually.

In 2015-16, the Tata Trusts, in partnership with Dell, had leveraged technology and rolled out a population-based screening programme in Andhra Pradesh. Its success led to a request by the Telangana government in 2017 to implement the same, along with some additional components.

In 2015-16, the Tata Trusts, in partnership with Dell, had leveraged technology and rolled out a population-based screening programme in Andhra Pradesh. Its success led to a request by the Telangana government in 2017 to implement the same, along with some additional components. It was this experience that led the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to partner Tata Trusts in NPCDCS (National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke). The intent was to leverage information technology in the form of a comprehensive primary health care (CPHC) application.

What made this project suitable for pan-India implementation?

The Andhra and Telangana experience showed a strong understanding of know-how, especially in successfully developing and deploying a technology project with health professionals, to conduct population-level screening of common NCDs. The Tata Trusts were one of a handful of organisations in the country who understood the nitty-gritty of rolling out a project of such magnitude.

For the pan-India implementation, the programme was ably supported by the Trusts (TSU) at the national and state levels. The units provided technomanagerial support to strengthen programme implementation and service delivery. Through these TSUs, the Trusts support field monitoring, along with capacity building and mentoring of service delivery functionaries at different levels of care. The programme includes a digital platform to ensure delivery and monitoring of the NCD project. It is all about synergistic functioning.

What is the current footprint in terms of geographic coverage, areas of engagement, and beneficiaries?

The CPHC-NCD application is already being used by 30 states and union territories. More than 120,000 users across various levels in the public health ecosystem are using it to implement screening and management of NCDs. Currently, there are over 120 million Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in India individual health records. About 34 million screenings have been conducted by ANMs/CHOs, and 6.5 million suspected cases have been referred for further examination. Already 4 million individuals have been examined by medical officers and 2.2 million individuals are under treatment.

How does the Trusts’ engagement support the government in driving change – for instance, through innovation, technology, data, skilled human resources, project management expertise, and so on?

The government has all the intent to solve large-scale problems. The Tata Trusts, with their long experience, has brought in problem-solving skills. The health sector is one of the few where IT adoption is still in its infancy. What the Trusts have shown is how technology can be leveraged, and they have demonstrated this by deploying it across India. This has led to policy makers and decision makers taking corrective action based on the data being captured in the CPHC-NCD system. It has instilled a sense of effectiveness and efficiency in the process.

What advantages do strong government-civil society partnership models like this offer for the government and citizenry?

Civil society has the flexibility to explore and innovate in an unexplored territory or domain with pilot interventions. The ability to deliver successfully gives governments the confidence to take up projects one a larger scale.

Civil society also brings strong, data-driven evidence to decision makers, and provides insights and help in taking corrective action and making effective policies. They also play a key role in proving inputs for the effective implementation of the government’s programmes.

Noncommunicable diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in India
Noncommunicable diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in India