The nation’s true health is reflected in the well-being of all its citizens, specifically including its women and children. A healthcare system is not complete and inclusive unless it removes any and all structural or systemic barriers that prevent easy and convenient access for women and children.

Unfortunately, many of us have come across the distinct and multifaceted challenges faced by women in the country, with the most common being the difficulty in accessing timely and effective healthcare, which is an issue of deep concern.

This disparity is particularly evident in women’s experiences with Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), a group of illnesses that affect the poorest of the poor.

Social norms and structures often deprioritise and neglect women’s health needs and assistance can be compounded in the case of NTDs, such as Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) or Haathipaon where early detection can be life-changing, and an increased manifestation of the disease can lead to extreme social isolation.

Our success at the community level concerning health cannot be achieved without frontline women healthworkers such as ASHAs, ANMs and nurses.

Unfortunately, they themselves often lack access to the same level of healthcare services they provide to others.

The efforts of ASHA sisters have brought revolutionary changes in the health services in rural areas and hence in the recent interim budget, it has been decided to include all ASHA sisters, Anganwadi workers and assistants in the healthcare cover under the “Ayushman Bharat” scheme.

The Union governmenthas been consistently increasing its focus on women’s health through initiatives such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana, Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK), and Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan (SUMAN). While these initiatives make strides in ensuring proper care for women and children, there is still a pressing need for greater and more urgent attention to NTDs such as LF.

The Ayushman Arogya Mandirs play a crucial role as primary healthcare centers, providing early diagnostics, treatment, and essential information. These are being leveraged for NTDs, ensuring that necessary healthcare infrastructure is brought closer to women.

Leveraging SHGs

A second focus area is leveraging Self-Help Groups (SHGs) predominantly composed of women.

Over 8.93 crore women households have been mobilized into 82.61 lakh SHGs, and the members play a key role in empowering women to access all major programs including health and nutrition. These groups are now being utilized to raise awareness about NTDs and facilitate healthcare.

The government has made admirable progress in the fight against NTDs, launching nationwide coordinated Mass Drug Administration (MDA) rounds for LF and evolving drug regimens and strategies. Since 2014, the LF elimination program has transformed, more recently also moving from a previously erratic MDA schedule to a structured biannual campaign aligned with National Deworming Day.

The results of these initiatives are encouraging, with districts attaining more than 80 per cent coverage during MDA rounds and moving towards halting transmission and elimination.

Recently, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched the first phase of the Bi- annual Nationwide Mass Drug Administration (MDA) campaign for Lymphatic Filariasis elimination. The campaign aims to check disease transmission by providing free preventive medications.

Due to all these government efforts under the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and guidance of Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, today significant progress is being seen on women’s health indicators in the country.

The writer is Minister of State, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India