UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore has praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for investing the "political time and efforts" in issues like health and sanitation. She said people start looking around at other things that need improvement when they begin to feel that their community is doing better.

"If you invest a dollar in sanitation solutions, the benefit will be four dollars in terms of health cost prevention, the (reduction in) number of visits you go to a doctor and in the medicines that you don't have to buy," Ms Fore told PTI in an interview. She was in Mumbai to attend an event organised jointly by the UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE) Friday.

"The prime minister invested political time and effort and what it meant was people began picking up that story. They want to do it for Mahatma Gandhi, for their country and they felt pride in it," she said in an apparent reference to "Swacch Bharat" Mission. The flagship cleanliness drive, launched by the prime minister in 2014, aims to clean up the streets, roads and infrastructure of India's cities, towns, and rural areas.

PM Modi had said the sanitation coverage in the country has increased from 38% to nearly 80% and asserted that the 'Swachh Bharat Mission' is playing a central role in creating a healthy India.

Sanitation, clean India

When asked about UNICEF's view on the child mortality rate (CMR) in India during the past decade, Ms Fore said it has shown improvement. "Since 1990s, when the numbers first began, there was a significant reduction in child mortality. Sanitation, clean India should bring numbers down further. What we don't know yet is how much further they should bring them down. But it's an exciting journey for India and we really are on the right path," she said.

Ms Fore feels that health is one of the challenges an emerging country like India could face in its journey towards a clean nation. "Clean water brings health benefits in a way that many other national strategies cannot," she said. Ms Fore said learning new skills is another challenge for a developing nation because many new industries are expected to flourish.

Flagship Programmes 

When asked if the UNICEF sees the flagship programmes of the prime minister sustaining in future, Ms Fore said, "People want areas like nutrition, health, education, sanitation, water protection etc. irrespective of political climate or which party is in power.

"So it's up to every community, every household to put a value in it. I believe in terms of sanitation that where there is a room there is a toilet (and) most families would want to keep that. The challenge is to maintain and professionalize it so that people learn to maintain and service it," she said.

"It's going to be on each one of us to keep those programmes going that we think benefit the health, education and nutrition in our communities," she said. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is a United Nations agency headquartered in New York city that provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. It is a member of the United Nations Development Group.