Covid wake-up call: Govt likely to double health budget

| | New Delhi
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Covid wake-up call: Govt likely to double health budget

Wednesday, 27 January 2021 | Archana Jyoti | New Delhi

In the wake of coronavirus pandemic, the Government is likely to double the health spending in the next fiscal year with an aim to raise expenditure in the sector to 4 per cent of gross domestic output in the coming four years, sources in the Union Health Ministry have said.

In the forthcoming Budget, health spending is likely to be raised to `1.2-1.3 trillion in the fiscal year starting April 1, from the current year’s projected spending of `626 billion, the sources said, adding the new healthcare plan is likely to be unveiled on February 1 when the Budget is presented.

The country’s spending on healthcare has been a meagre 1.3 per cent of GDP, much less than the neighbouring nations like Bangladesh and BRICS countries.

Experts in the sector too feel that healthcare should be accorded ‘national priority’ status and Covid-19 should be treated as a wake-up call. They feel that going forward in health sector shall be significantly measured by sanitation, hygiene and preventive healthcare.

Dr Alok Roy, Chair, FICCI Health Services Committee and Chairman, Medica Group of Hospitals, said “Expectations are running much higher this time (from the Budget). The year that’s ending has been a year of pandemic disrupting lives and livelihoods and causing economic turmoil. From being one of the fastest-growing economies, we are still battling with the pandemic gloom. In the 2021-22 Budget, prioritisation of the healthcare sector should be of utmost importance.”

DS Negi, CEO of Delhi-based Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC) echoed similar views saying, “In the wake of the pandemic, our expectations from the Budget 2021 centre around higher allocation towards healthcare and policies for incentivising a robust healthcare infrastructure.”

He called for higher allocation for preventive healthcare so as to meet the rising challenge of lifestyle illnesses.

“Ayushman Bharat is no doubt a highly positive step towards attaining the objective of universal healthcare; however, more budgets need to be apportioned for its continued success,” he added.

Saumyajit Roy, founder of Emoha Elder Care felt it was high time for the Government to address the needs and concerns of India’s highly vulnerable population. He cited the latest reports that point out “the share of elders, as a percentage of the total population in the country, is expected to increase from around 7.5 per cent in 2001 to almost 12.5 per cent by 2026, and surpass 19.5 per cent by 2050.”

In our view, we think it is significant to view the Central Government Budget estimates of Rs 67,484 crore towards the health sector for the financial year of 2020-2021, in the context of the total spends of less than 0.05 per cent of the total health Budget on mental health-related initiatives.

Hence, the primary expectation from the Government is to give special focus to the elderly and address the pressing issues pertaining to their physical and mental wellbeing by creating a robust health infrastructure and making more investments in mental health programmes to support them in general.

Speaking on the expectations from Budget 2021, Shekhar Rawtani, Founder, Prescrip, a platform to address the lack of adoption of technology across healthcare, said, “The ongoing pandemic has put healthcare in the spotlight and exposed several gaps in the ecosystem. Hence, we need policies that can cover wide-ranging voids in infrastructure, facilities, and financial provisions in the upcoming Budget. Making budgetary provisions for our frontline workers, who have been pivotal in our fight against the pandemic should be one of the key focus areas of the Government.”

Also, the year 2020 has set the base for digital transformation and innovations in the healthcare system and 2021 policies must work towards scaling them, increasing digital inclusion in the remotest corners of the country, he added.

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