Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] AI for public health


The term AI was coined way back in 1957. But it’s only in the last decade that we have seen an explosion of data, and data is the key fuel for AI and ML algorithms. As patient data and data collected through research is digitised, these algorithms can use it to detect patterns, and then assist health workers with early detection of warning signs as well as clinical decision-making.

Issues with public health programme

  • Public health programmes are complex and dependent on committed human resources, who are in short supply and fairly difficult to keep motivated.
  • These constraints limit the impact of large-scale health programmes, often leaving out families that need these.
  • The progress made in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in the last decade can bridge this gap.

Usage of AI

From precision medicine, medical record storage and retrieval, medical report diagnosis, and robotics in clinical settings, to virtual consultations and personal fitness trackers that can be used at home, AI is making its presence felt:

Diagnostics and screening: Identifying or predicting diseases based on symptoms;

Health worker performance: Tracking the data captured by health workers, and using it to direct their efforts where they are most needed;

Improving client adherence: Identifying gaps in people’s health-seeking behaviour and suggesting who might drop out of a health programme or course of treatment.

The Astana Declaration on Primary Health Care identified technology as a key driver to improve accessibility, affordability and transparency towards achieving #HealthForAll.

Benefits of AI

  • With the kinds of applications outlined above, AI and ML can be an excellent tool for the health workforce, making their lives easier and their work effective—when a few conditions are met.
  • It can automate repetitive tasks, figure out patterns in huge datasets, and aid clinical decision-making in specific areas, particularly radiology and pathology. What conditions health professionals using AI/ML should ensure?

1. Get the right data: AI and ML algorithms are smart, but only as smart as the data that feeds them. The principle of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) is applicable here, too. Any bias in the data—method of collection, populations and contexts covered, human error—will make the algorithm biased.

2. Be ethical:  New developments like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation are forcing investments in data security and privacy, but as public health professionals it’s important to think about ownership, access and use of people’s health data, before collecting it.

3. Get everyone on board: Getting non-IT people to accept the outputs of AI and ML can be an issue. If algorithms and processes are complicated (they often are), try and demystify AI and ML for teams that work on the ground.

4. Be clear about your objective: It’s important to not fall in the trap of setting huge objectives (like finding cure for cancer), but aim for low-hanging fruits and start with something well-defined and achievable.

Way forward

AI and ML can seem daunting to those who don’t dabble in technology, so organisations should get some tech experts on board. They can help define achievable outcomes, design usable systems, and navigate the complex maze of resources available to turn those ideas into reality. What health professionals bring to the table is their understanding of the needs and context, their on-ground networks that enable co-creation, and their experiential insight into how these technologies will affect the lives of communities and health workers. Through such powerful partnerships, we can harness AI to power the movement towards Health for All.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism – NCA, Lok Adalats, etc.

[op-ed snap] Arbitration par charcha


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Ways to make India as an arbitration hub.


The government’s recent initiative and push for the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill, 2019, to make India an ‘arbitration hub’ has to be seen in the larger and overall context, and not as a one-off measure.

Singapore as an ideal

  • Singapore attracts a vast majority of its international commercial disputes of Indian vintage and connection.
  • It has become the lead destination for dispute resolution as there was a clear vision and steady determination.
  • This made Singapore the ‘seat’ of arbitration and a preferred venue.

Ways to achieve it

1.A pro-arbitration culture backed by the trio

Judiciary –  Courts particularly need to take a pragmatic approach towards ‘minimum intervention and maximum execution’, which will respect the arbitral process and honour arbitral awards.

Legislature – The legislature had amended the Arbitration Act in 2015 and set timelines to increase the pace of arbitration, and make it more time-bound, result-oriented and disciplined. However, India requires gigantic measures to emerge as a ‘hub’.

Executive – The government has echoed the same sentiment and has given the need for making India an ‘arbitration hub’ and promoting ease of doing business the stature of a national priority.

2. Sanctity of contracts

  • Respecting the sanctity of contracts and honouring awards are vital to emerge as an ‘arbitration hub’.
  • However, an effective dispute redressal mechanism is not enough.
  • It is equally important to reduce the number of artificial disputes.
  • Numerous times needless disputes, particularly by PSUs, are pushed to arbitration where the arbitrator simply has to direct the parties to adhere to the terms of the contract.

3.Independent and expert arbitrators

This would bring in much-needed commercial certainty, uphold the sanctity of the award/contract, and enhance the quality of decision-making.

4. Effective enforcement of awards involving public bodies

  • Courts are highly cautious in enforcing awards against the government as they are swayed by unfounded nationalism and emotion.
  • What is required is a no-nonsense approach and a mindset tuned towards compliance, adherence and enforcement.
  • The answer lies in creating a culture of finality of arbitral awards so that a winner can get a touch-and-feel of the fruits of victory.
  • This will inspire confidence and create a vibrant arbitration culture for resolving commercial disputes.

A step in the right direction

  • The catalyst has to be government initiative, judicial and legislative support, and, above all, a conducive commercial mindset and environment.
  • What we need is a well-thought-out road map to establish a credible and trustworthy institutional framework.
  • Once the script is in place, a robust institutional framework will automatically trigger/take off.


A superstructure on a solid base is essential to meet the objective of making India an ‘arbitration hub’ and promote ease of doing business. This will ensure durability and longevity, which will serve India’s interests well, and who knows it may just open doors to ‘arbitration tourism’.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Explained: Superconductivity


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Superconductivity

Mains level : Superconductors and their future uses


  • About a year ago, two scientists from IISc Bangalore had observed superconductivity at room temperature, in a new composite material made of gold and silver.
  • If the claimed discovery is confirmed, it could be one of the biggest breakthroughs in physics in this century so far.

Silver embedded gold matrix

  • The material that exhibited superconductivity is in the form of nanosized films and pellets made of silver nanoparticles embedded in a gold matrix.
  • Interestingly, silver and gold independently do not exhibit superconductivity.

What is Superconductivity?

  • Electricity is essentially the movement of free electrons in a conducting material like copper.
  • While the movement of electrons is in one particular direction, it is random and haphazard.
  • They frequently collide with one another, and with other particles in the material, thus offering resistance to the flow of current.
  • The picture is similar to one of messy traffic in a congested urban area. In the process, a lot of electrical energy is lost as heat. Resistance is a measurable quantity, which varies with the material.
  • Superconductivity is a state in which a material shows absolutely zero electrical resistance.
  • While resistance is a property that restricts the flow of electricity, superconductivity allows unhindered flow.
  • It is a phenomenon that, so far, has been possible only at extremely low temperatures, in the range of 100°C below zero.

A phenomenon of zero resistance

  • The search for a material that exhibits superconductivity at room temperature, or at least manageable low temperatures, has been going on for decades, without success.
  • In a superconducting state, however, the material offers no resistance at all.
  • All the electrons align themselves in a particular direction, and move without any obstruction in a “coherent” manner.
  • It is akin to vehicles moving in an orderly fashion on a superhighway.
  • Because of zero resistance, superconducting materials can save huge amounts of energy, and be used to make highly efficient electrical appliances.

Why is superconductivity difficult to achieve?

  • The problem is that superconductivity, ever since it was first discovered in 1911, has only been observed at very low temperatures, somewhere close to what is called absolute zero (0°K or -273.15°C).
  • In recent years, scientists have been able to find superconductive materials at temperatures that are higher than absolute zero.
  • But in most cases, these temperatures are still below -100°C and the pressures required are extreme.
  • Creating such extreme conditions of temperature and pressure is a difficult task.
  • Therefore, the applications of superconducting materials have remained limited as of now.
J&K – The issues around the state

‘Back to the village’ Outreach Programme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the programme

Mains level : Ensuring effective governance in J&K


  • The Jammu and Kashmir state government has launched its ambitious outreach programme, ‘Back to the Village’.

 Back to the Village

  • As part of the program, bureaucrats will spend the next 36 hours in different panchayats, gathering feedback from people on development of their areas.
  • The eight-day programme is being organised across all Panchayats of the state.
  • Under the ‘Back to the Village’ programme, government officers will be spending two days and one night in different panchayats.
  • During their stay, they will hold meetings with elected ‘panches’ and ‘sarpanches’, hold ‘gram’ (village) and ‘mahila sabhas’ (women assemblies) in addition to other grassroots level interactions.
  • The programme will involve the people of the state and government officials in a joint effort to deliver the mission of equitable development across all our rural areas.
  • The feedback obtained during the exercise will help the government in assessing and subsequently tailoring the various central and state government schemes to improve delivery of village-specific services.

Objectives of the programme

  • The outreach initiative is primarily aimed at energizing the 4,483 panchayats and directing development efforts in rural areas through community participation and to create in the rural masses an earnest desire for a decent standard of living.
  • The basic objective of this programme is to move governance from its seat of operation to the doorsteps of the people in villages.
  • It will focus on four main goals viz. energising panchayats, collecting feedback on delivery of government schemes and programmes, capturing specific economic potential and undertaking assessment of needs of villages, besides affording an opportunity to gazetted officers to visit the villages.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Species in news: Great Indian Bustard


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Great Indian Bustards

Mains level : Species Recovery Programme


May go extinct very soon

  • The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is one of the few species that the Government of India has included in its ‘recovery programme for critically endangered species’.
  • With less than 200 GIBs remaining in the world, most of them found in Rajasthan’s ‘Desert National Park’.
  • We are on the brink of forever losing a majestic bird species, which was once a strong contender to be declared as India’s National Bird.

Various threats to GIBs

I. General threats to GIB

  • Habitat loss & fragmentation, change of land use pattern, desertification, ill-thought plantation of exotic & invasive species in grassland ecosystems are some of the generic causes.
  • Neglect of state institutions due to classification of ‘grasslands’ as ‘wastelands’, conversion of grasslands to agriculture lands due to increasing irrigation potential and decline of nature/GIB-friendly agrarian practices, are all commonly and correctly blamed for the steady decline in India’s GIB population.

II. Role of Noise Pollution

  • Noise pollution affects the mating and courtship practices of the GIB.
  • The male GIB inflates his ‘gular’ pouch (near the neck) which almost touches the ground, in order to produce a large booming sound which reverberates across the grassland.
  • The male GIB does this to attract GIB females and to inform them of his exact location in the vast expanse of the grassland.
  • Thus, the sound of the male GIB should be loud enough to transcend the walls of the sanctuary and be audible to female GIBs in the fields nearby.
  • The noise generated by human activities, whether be it by vehicles, tractors, music during processions, firecrackers, may interfere with the GIB’s mating call and drown it out.

III. Other threats

  • The rate of reproduction amongst GIBs is very low; the female GIB lays only one egg per year.
  • This solitary egg is under threat from natural predators of the grasslands such as jackals, hyenas or foxes or invasive species such as crows or feral dogs.
  • In such a scenario, every opportunity the GIBs lose to mate pushes the species closer to extinction.

Way Forward

  • The best course of action to guarantee the GIB’s revival, is to remove impediments in its natural breeding cycle, including noise barriers.
  • Along with all other measures to revive GIB numbers, the aspect of regulating noise pollution levels needs to be incorporated.
  • This may include techno-fixes such as retro-fitting vehicles/tractors in the area with advanced ‘super-quiet’ silencers.
  • We can co-ordinate with the people and their local leaders to ensure that any procession or ceremony during the pre-monsoon & monsoon period would not make use of high noise making equipment.
  • Unless the villagers’ basic developmental aspirations are linked & simultaneously fulfilled hand-in-hand with GIB conservation, it would be incorrect to expect their full-fledged support to this cause.

Complement this newscard with:

Great Indian Bustard may be extinct soon

Indian Missile Program Updates

Varunastra Torpedoes


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Varunastra torpedoes

Mains level : Modernising Indian Navy


  • Indian Navy and Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) have signed a contract recently worth for supply of heavyweight torpedo Varunastra to Indian Navy.


  • Varunastra was basically a ship-launched, electrically-propelled underwater weapon equipped with one of the most advanced automatic and remote-controlled guidance systems.
  • The weapon system uses its own intelligence in tracing the target. It is the only torpedo in the world to have a GPS-based locating aid.
  • It is seven to eight metres long, weighs 1,500 kg and has a diameter of 533 mm.
  • The anti-submarine electric torpedo when fired can travel at 40 knots, or 74 kmph.
  • The operational range is 40 km and it can carry a warhead weighing 250 kg.
  • The weapon has been jointly developed by the Naval Science and Technology Laboratory (NTSL), Visakhapatnam and the Bharat Dynamics Limited -BDL (Hyderabad).
Indian Navy Updates

[pib] Operation Sankalp


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Op Sankalp

Mains level : Maritime security and logistics


Operation Sankalp

  • Indian Navy launched Operation Sankalp in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to reassure Indian flagged vessels transiting through the area following the recent maritime incidents in the region.
  • The operation has been launched in the wake of escalating tension in the Gulf of Oman, where two oil tankers were attacked last week.
  • INS Chennai and INS Sunayna have been deployed in the region to undertake maritime security operations.
  • In addition, aerial surveillance in the area is also being done by IN aircraft.
  • The Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region of the Indian Navy keeps watch on the movement of ships in the Gulf region.