The Covid-19 pandemic should serve as an eye-opener for the government to increase allocation for the health sector in the Union Budget 2020-21, feel representatives from the sector.
Pointing out that the pandemic exposed the “shortcomings” in the India healthcare system, they have urged Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to hike the allocation in the Budget to be presented in Parliament on February 1.
According to them, the pandemic posed a serious threat to the healthcare system and consequently to the supply chain of medicines and materials used for the care of those affected. They believe that the situation has forced everyone to think about the money India spends to strengthen its healthcare sector.
Sitharaman had allocated Rs 69,000 crore or 1.28 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for health in the last fiscal. However, the situation India faced due to the health emergency exposed the shortcomings of the healthcare sytem.
Doctors and health professionals appealed to the government and to the Finance Minister to increase allocations to ensure healthcare reaches all sections of society, both urban and rural.
“I sincerely hope the Minister increases allocations to the health sector in the 2021-22 Budget, and a major portion of this allocation must be spent to strengthen primary healthcare and improve the quality of healthcare delivery mechanism. India needs better healthcare facilities which will work towards improving the economy. Covid-19 pandemic must work as an eye-opener to increase Budget allocations for the health sector,” said Dr Guru N Reddy, founder and director, Continental Hospitals.
“Not just an increase in financial allocations, India must focus on skill development and training of the workforce to ensure better delivery of healthcare services in the country. Increased funding will help in improving preparedness to manage uncertain situations arising out of emergencies,” said Dr Mervin Leo, Cluster COO, Gleneagles Global Hospitals.
Dr Rahul Medakkar, COO, Care Hospitals-Banjara Hills, said that in addition to increase in allocations, the government must consider the option of giving enhanced tax incentives for individuals and groups who intend to invest in the health sector.
“One major lesson learnt from the pandemic is the need to establish epidemiology units at all districts in the country, and this is possible only when more investment comes into the sector. The government should also consider to set up infectious diseases units in all hospitals which require unique design considerations and isolation strategies.”
The health professionals are of the view that the Indian healthcare budget is directionally sound but is inadequate in view of the vastness of our country. The sector remains underfunded, and this continues to reflect on the short-term fixes at the expense of building a robust health system over a longer period of time.
The glaring mismatch between allocation and desired outcome make it unclear how the government proposes to achieve what it claims to have budgeted for, they added.