From establishing a four-tier health administration system with ‘clearly defined’ powers to putting in place a public health framework and even defining a lockdown – ministry officials Union Health and Family Welfare and other government departments have started the process of finalizing various provisions of the Bill for a new National Public Health Act, The Indian Express has learned.
Once the draft is ready, it will be placed in the public domain for consultation before being sent to the Cabinet of the Union. With the third wave of Covid ebbing across the country, the National Public Health Bill is expected to be introduced in the monsoon parliamentary session, we learn.
The proposed National Public Health Act has been in the works since 2017 and, when enacted, will replace the 125-year-old Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897. It will also cover public health emergencies caused by bioterrorism, natural disasters, chemical and nuclear attacks. or accidents.
It is learned that the bill proposes a four-tier health administration architecture, with “multi-sector” national, state, district and bloc public health authorities that will have “well-defined” powers and functions to deal with “public health emergencies”.
While the national public health authority is proposed to be headed by the Union Department of Health, it will be chaired by state health ministers. District collectors will lead the next level and block units will be led by block doctors or medical superintendents. These authorities will have powers to take measures to prevent non-communicable diseases and emerging infectious diseases, we learn.
New law caused by Covid
The proposed law will address updated, science-based, and comprehensive provisions on disease surveillance, notification, and public health emergencies resulting from epidemics, disasters, and bioterrorism. The existing Epidemic Diseases Act lacks provisions for managing a pandemic like Covid – the government has relied on the Epidemic Diseases Act and the Disaster Management Act 2005.
The bill also provides for the creation of public health frameworks at the national and state levels, we learn.
The bill defined various measures such as isolation, quarantine and lockdown, which have been widely invoked by the Center and the States for the management of Covid.
It defines confinement as “a restriction under certain conditions or a total ban on the operation of any means of transport” on roads or inland waters, we learn.
The definition of a lockdown covers “restrictions” on the movement or gathering of people in any place, whether public or private. It also includes “prohibiting or restricting” the operation of factories, factories, mines or construction or offices or educational institutions or market places, we learn.
The draft foresees several situations in which the “public health emergency” can be declared. They include bioterrorism; appearance of a new or already controlled or eradicated infectious agent or biological toxin; a natural disaster; chemical attack or accidental release of chemicals; a nuclear attack or accident, we learn.
While the public health bill has been pending for years, it has gained momentum in recent months.
In 2017, the Union Department of Health published the Public Health (Prevention, Control and Management of Epidemics, Bioterrorism and Disasters) Bill 2017. In September 2020, then Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan announced in Parliament that the government would formulate a National Public Health Act.