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PHFI was born at a time of great confidence in India’s soaring economic growth but also of great concern about the appallingly poor health indicators that were utterly incongruous with the image of a rapidly developing country.Apart from high rates of infant, child and maternal mortality, as well as shockingly high levels of child undernutrition and adolescent anaemia, a multitude of infectious diseases extracted a high toll of avoidable deaths and disability. Those who survived these threats faced the mounting menace of non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and mental illness. Personal health, family fortunes and national productivity- all fell prey to diseases that could have prevented or detected early for effective control. The response of a poorly configured and seriously under resourced health system, to these complex challenges was feeble and uncoordinated. Policies and programmes in other sectors, which profoundly impact on health, were not sensitive or aligned to public health goals. India’s embarrassingly low position, in the global listings of Human Development Index, was due to neglect of health and education at the population level, despite islands of excellence in tertiary medical care or higher professional education.
One of the key reasons for the poor performance in health, was the failure of establish institutions which could advance public health education and research into transformational policy and practice. Medical colleges did not measure up to the task of providing multi-disciplinary and health system connected education in public health. Lack of public health expertise adversely affected policy development, programme design, delivery and evaluation as well as the development of problem solving innovations. A national consultation, convened by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in September 2004, recommended the creation of a foundation which could rapidly advance public health education, training, research and advocacy. PHFI was born as a result, as a unique public –private initiative representing a new kind of PPP (Partnership for a Public Purpose). Trans- disciplinary learning and multi – sectoral application form the double helix of PHFI’s DNA.
Over the past decade, PHFI has established five Indian Institutes of Public Health (four in active motion and a fifth in infancy). It is a conducting a wide array of post-graduate degree and diploma programmes, on campus and by distance education, both under its umbrella and in partnership with other academic institutions. It has assembled a technical talent pool of over 600- inclusive of faculty and dedicated researchers. Apart from sending out over 100 young faculty for training in public health in some of the best public health schools in the world, PHFI has succeeded in attracting talented diaspora from world over. Our faculty are sought after, as visiting or adjunct faculty, by leading global public health schools. A variety of diploma, MPH and MSc-PhD courses are offered by the IIPHs, through a mix of campus and distance education programmes. The diploma in public health management is linked to the National Health Mission and has trained a large number of deputed medical officers from states across the country. A variety of short term trainings are on offer, as are certificate courses for primary care physicians.
PHFI has also built up an impressive portfolio of research and implementation projects, funded by reputed national and international agencies through competitive grants. With over 1600 publications in scientific journals and an average impact factor of 5.3, PHFI has established a creditable track record in research and has been so recognised by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. More important, the research is providing useful inputs to India’s health policy and programmes in many areas of public health importance. Four funded centres of excellence in chronic diseases, disabilities, equity and social determinants and environmental health are leading applied research projects and capacity development in those areas.
Technical assistance is also being provided to central and state governments for health system strengthening. Areas of such engagement include HIV prevention, routine immunisation, allied health professional training, universal coverage, health accounts and budgeting, access to drugs, antibiotic resistance, tobacco control, environmental health, health workforce planning and public health cadre development.
Technologies for affordable health care have been developed by PHFI and are now being evaluated in field studies. As m-health and tablet based decision support systems are being evaluated by our researchers in primary care settings of several states for hypertension and diabetes management, drones have been developed by our students for delivery of drugs for treatment of tuberculosis.
At the global level too, faculty and researchers are actively contributing to many initiatives, expert groups and commissions such as Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, Global Burden of Disease Study, WHO Commission on Ending Child Obesity, Lancet Commissions on Health Professional Education, Mental Health, Investing in Health, Palliative Care and Obesity as well global panels on Antibiotic Resistance. International conferences have been convened by PHFI on maternal health, antibiotic resistance, endgame for tobacco, global youth meet on health, health in sustainable development and new directions for public health education.
For enabling us to do this, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Board , led by our visionary Chair Shri NR Narayana Murthy, our supportive donors, thoughtful technical advisors, and the many esteemed Indian and international partners. We look forward to their continued guidance and support as we move in to the next decade of PHFI’s life with renewed commitment to the mandate of raising India’s health to the best global standards.