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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
India launches rural health plan
Indian village women
More than 136,000 Indian women die annually during childbirth
India has announced a new programme to deliver health care to millions of poor villagers around the country.

Launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the National Rural Health Mission aims to spend 67 billion rupees ($1.5bn) across some 300,000 villages.

Mr Singh said that India had long neglected providing healthcare for its billion-plus population.

India's governing alliance has pledged to focus on improving the lives of the country's rural poor.

"The slow improvement in the health status of our people has been a matter of great concern," Mr Singh said.

"We have grievously erred in many of our health programmes. We have paid inadequate attention to public health."

The new programme proposes to radically overhaul the health system by giving more powers to the states and to village councils to implement healthcare plans.

For the first time they are looking at some fundamental issues such as strengthening rural infrastructure
Dr Alok Mukhopadhaya

It aims to provide a woman in every Indian village trained as in healthcare. Particular focus will be on providing primary health care and assistance to newborns and pregnant mothers.

Although it is to be implemented across India, it will initially target some of India's poorest states in the north and north-east.

'Long overdue'

Health workers have welcomed the programme saying it was long overdue.

"For the first time they are looking at some fundamental issues such as strengthening rural infrastructure," Dr Alok Mukhopadhaya of the Voluntary Health Association of India told the BBC News website.

But he added that a lot would depend on the quality of local authorities and state governments and their utilisation of the funds.

"You can have lots of creative ideas but to make it work on the ground is a big challenge."

According to the latest World Health Organisation report, nearly 136,000 women die each year because of maternal complications and nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five die annually.

Most of the deaths, WHO says, can be prevented by simple health care measures.

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