Union Budget 2021: Vaccine-focus a shot in the arm

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Updated: February 02, 2021 3:04 AM

Union Budget 2021 India: “The continuing modest allocation towards the healthcare sector would make it challenging for the government to meet its target of public sector healthcare investment of 2.5% of the GDP by 2025,” said Kapil Banga, assistant vice president, Icra.

Budget 2021-22: The Budget documents mention a Rs 33,572 crore ‘provision of financial assistance to meet expenditure on Covid-19 vaccination’ in FY22. Budget 2021-22: The Budget documents mention a Rs 33,572 crore ‘provision of financial assistance to meet expenditure on Covid-19 vaccination’ in FY22.

Indian Union Budget 2021-22: Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on Monday that the Centre was providing Rs 35,000 crore for vaccination against the disease. The Budget documents mention a Rs 33,572 crore ‘provision of financial assistance to meet expenditure on Covid-19 vaccination’ in FY22.

While the Serum Institute of India had said earlier this year that it will make 10 crore doses of Covishield, one of the two vaccines approved in India, available to the Centre at Rs 200 per dose, at Rs 500 for a two-dose-vaccine regime, the provision should cover doses for 67 crore people.

The government estimates a 30-crore target population (comprising health and frontline workers, people above the age of 50 and people below 50 with co-morbidities) for its priority inoculation drive, while, as per the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 data, there were 13.4 crore households in India whose highest-earning member had a monthly income of below Rs 5,000.

Also Read: Check Union Budget 2021 Live Updates here:

The budgeted spend for health and family welfare, though, is nearly 11% lower than the revised estimates for the current fiscal, at Rs 71,268 crore versus FY21 revised estimate (RE) of Rs 78,866 crore — a chunk of FY21RE spend, over the FY21 budget estimate (BE) of Rs 65,011 crore, could be attributed to emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The continuing modest allocation towards the healthcare sector would make it challenging for the government to meet its target of public sector healthcare investment of 2.5% of the GDP by 2025,” said Kapil Banga, assistant vice president, Icra.

Sitharaman also announced the launch of a new centrally-sponsored scheme, the PM AtmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore over six years. The scheme aims to bolster primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare in the country and envisages setting up of public health laboratories in all districts and critical care hospital blocks in 602 of these. With pandemic/epidemic readiness a big policy concern, the scheme will also focus on setting up of 15 health emergency operation centres. Apart from creation of new public health units and strengthening of existing ones at 50 points of entry to India, nine biosafety level (BSL) III labs — India mandates BSL II/III for all SARS CoV-2 manipulations, with virus isolation, cell culture, and neutralisation assay reserved for BSL III labs only — and four National Institutes of Virology will also be set up.

The announcement has received a mixed response from health-sector experts. “A total allocation of Rs 64,180 crore over a period of six years may thinly spread the resources to many announcements under this programme. However, a beginning has been made in this direction,” said Sarit Rout, a health economist with the Public Health Foundation of India.

Ali Mehdi, who leads the Health Policy Initiative, however, believes instead of a new central scheme, the money should have gone to the states. “The Centre should accept that health is a state responsibility and try to strengthen state systems,” Mehdi says.

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