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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 207-208  

Empowering public health leadership in India

1 Organizing Secretary, 64th IPHACON 2020; Professor, Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India
2 Consultant, Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India
3 Professor, Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission29-Aug-2020
Date of Decision29-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance29-Aug-2020
Date of Web Publication22-Sep-2020

Correspondence Address:
Sanjay K Rai
Organizing Secretary, 64th IPHACON 2020; Professor, Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijph.IJPH_1108_20

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How to cite this article:
Rai SK, Jha S, Misra P. Empowering public health leadership in India. Indian J Public Health 2020;64:207-8

How to cite this URL:
Rai SK, Jha S, Misra P. Empowering public health leadership in India. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jul 31];64:207-8. Available from:

Various eminent public health leaders of the country along with young public health enthusiasts congregated at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, from February 29 to March 2, 2020, to attend the 64th Annual National Conference of Indian Public Health Association (IPHA). The conference was organized by the Centre for Community Medicine, AIIMS, and IPHA Delhi State Branch. The theme of the conference was “Promoting Public Health Leadership for Universal Health Coverage in India.” The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, and the WHO SEARO were the official partners of the conference.

The conference was attended by more than 1100 delegates from all the states and union territories of India. The delegates included public health professionals, public health students, government officials, nursing students, and other people working in public health nationally and globally.

We were aware that, despite all our efforts, we would still leave a sizeable carbon footprint. To mitigate it over medium- and long-term period, we invited participants for tree plantation. Approximately, 2000 trees were planted on the degraded flood plains of river Yamuna. We thus managed to demonstrate how to organize a carbon neutral conference. We expect and hope that our leadership in this area will be adopted by others as well.

We felt that, instead of pontificating, we ought to lead by example. For this conference, the theme chosen for demonstration was environmental protection and sustainable utilization of natural resources.

All of us know that conferences are organized across all disciplines by professional bodies, including medical science. Congregations of delegates of the conference result in massive carbon footprint. One of our primary goals was to minimize this carbon footprint. The comprehensive approach made to achieve this objective included:

  1. Banning of plastic water bottle. Instead, a copper-lined water bottle was provided as conference kit. Drinking water-dispensing machines were provided at multiple locations for the convenience of the delegates
  2. Prepaid metro rail card was also given as conference kit to encourage the use of mass transit facility rather than individual vehicles.

For generating awareness of need to protect environment, delegates were invited to volunteer for cleaning of river Yamuna. We are happy to report that the response was overwhelming. An agency was hired that collected all the waste generated during the conference. This agency collected and segregated approximately 2.2 tons of waste of which 1.9 tons was recycled.

In addition to this, many new initiatives were taken at the academic front as well. In addition to the regular scientific sessions, “Meet the Professor” session was introduced during this conference. In this session, the budding aspirants and students of public health were given opportunity to interact with two senior retired professors and public health specialists. The session allowed the young students to gain insight from the experiences of these public health stalwarts and ask questions regarding career options and other details. Similarly, a public health quiz was also organized which received warm welcome from the young students and participants.

The theme of the conference “Promoting public health leadership for Universal Health Coverage in India” was the need of the hour which becomes further relevant in the era of COVID-19 pandemic. Public health leaders are crucial to achieve universal health coverage in any setting. They are the ones who define the priorities and make plans to achieve the best possible health. Public health leaders communicate their vision of what is achievable and evolve strategies for realizing the vision.

Public health leadership in our country has been tried and tested numerous times. Excellent example which can be quoted is eradication of small pox. Continuous neglect of public health leadership resulted in various issues across the country including delayed elimination of polio from our country as compared to the rest of the world. It has been no different in the COVID-19 situation. The public health leaders were left behind, and now, the country is witnessing maximum number of new cases in the entire world and is on the fastest trajectory. Even though the government has been very responsive to tackle the COVID situation in the country since the very beginning, it looks that they were not advised properly to take adequate public health actions based on science. If these advisors were people with medical public health background, the situation would have been different.

Currently, we are dealing with challenge of poor public health leadership by trained medical public health professionals in the country. Hence, people who are not trained in public health have assumed the role of leaders in the COVID times, which resulted in hiding crucial information and its analysis in a timely manner. Management and leadership are very important in delivering good health services to the people. Public health leaders would have known how to prioritize the requirement of the health system in the times of pandemic. The normal health services are yet to be established, and many basic activities such as immunization have been adversely affected for the last 6 months. This could actually take the country many years back in the national program coverage. The economic impact of COVID and the lockdown have been huge. This is the time when we look at factors for taking wrong decisions and pushing public health professionals on the back seat.

The historic and systematic neglect of public health as a discipline and the non-involvement of public health experts in policymaking and strategy formulation have cost the nation enormously, especially in the current pandemic. Rapid scaling up of public health (including medical care) – both services and research – should be done on a war footing with an allocation of 5% of GDP to health expenditure at center, state, and district levels. India needs public health leaders to improve the health status of our citizen. IPHA as one of the pioneer public health associations has long history of working closely with the people in promoting public health in this region. All the associations working in the field of public health and community medicine must come together to take a lead in developing public health leaders so that they can take various roles at central, state, and district levels. The need of the hour is to identify our public health leaders from our own community who could take the lead by examples. The leader does not say, “Get going!” Instead, s/he says, “Let's go!” and leads the way.


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