Union Budget 2021 Expectations for Health Sector: The upcoming Budget needs to look at the challenges of this unprecedented pandemic and accordingly make allocations to meet the new demands of the health sector, the “new normal” and the “new way of working” and make it more self-reliant.
By Dr KK Aggarwal
Union Budget 2021-22 Expectations for Health Sector: The war against the Covid-19 can be likened to a world war. Similar to a war, the new coronavirus too has left a trail of tragedies in its wake with countless lives lost. There have been almost 2 million deaths world over since the pandemic first emerged in Wuhan in China. Globally, there are more than 82 million confirmed COVID-19 cases.
This virus is still an unknown enemy to us, although today we know much more about SARS-CoV-2 virus than we did a year ago, to make it a manageable disease. Development of vaccines has given us hope that the pandemic may now at least be controlled, if not entirely eliminated. But, lest we get too complacent, the virus has yet again reminded us that it’s still out there. New variants of the coronavirus have been identified from the UK, South Africa and Nigeria, where they have become the dominant strains now. These new variants have already been detected in many countries, including in India, sparking fear and apprehensions about another resurgence as this variant seems to be more transmissible than the previously circulating variants and also spread more quickly. As a result, many countries have again implemented lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Hence, we need to be in a state of constant alert and keep vigil on all fronts as during wartime. Standard protocols and robust action plans should be in place and ready to be put in action, even at a short notice. A war-like preparedness is the need of the hour.
The year 2020 has clearly put the spotlight on health and has reiterated the need for a strong healthcare system. The upcoming Budget needs to look at the challenges of this unprecedented pandemic and accordingly make allocations to meet the new demands of the health sector, the “new normal” and the “new way of working” and make it more self-reliant.
Healthcare in India is unquestionably moving towards digitization. Telemedicine is fast becoming the norm. The concept of home care has caught the imagination of the world. Home care of Covid-19 cases increased the capacity of healthcare system. Now more and more illnesses would be managed at home. The entire country therefore should be connected, to the last mile, to facilitate teleconsultations. This would further boost the goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage.
There is need to establish health investigating agencies along the lines of the country’s intelligence agencies (RAW, IB) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and strengthen them to be alert about such outbreaks occurring in any part of the world and be prepared in advance to prevent its entry and trace the pathogen, once it has entered the country. The new budget should take this into consideration.
Matters of national security are the prerogative of the central government, where it has overriding powers over the states. Similarly, in a health crisis, all necessary amendments in the law and policies should be made only by the central government, in collaboration with states. There should be no separate state-wise policies. Having a uniform policy in place will only help to better manage the pandemic.
India has done a lot in vaccine research and should take the lead globally in vaccines and improve foreign exchange in lieu of this. Diagnostics, drugs have received fast clearance, within a year, to manage Covid-19. This should become a norm. There should be a special budget for newer vaccines.
The time has come to give importance to health sector similar to the defense sector in the budget planning.
(The author is President Heart Care Foundation of India and CMAAO, Editor-in-Chief IJCP Group and Medtalks. Views expressed are personal.)