By Harshit Jain MD,
Indian Union Budget 2021-22: Budget 2021 was all about reviving the economy that got severely hit by the unprecedented pandemic. To bring the country back on track, the focus has been laid on healthcare and infrastructure with an eye on achieving the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat.
Of the six pillars of the budget proposed by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the very first is based on ‘health and well-being’. This was much on the expected lines post the virus outbreak. For many years, experts have been unequivocally demanding an increase in public spending on healthcare to improve health infrastructure and that of the allied industries, but very little had been achieved.
As per National Health Profile (NHP) data of 2019, India spends just over one percent of its GDP on public health, which is drastically low considering the country’s population, demographics and ever-increasing disease burden. In light of this, the Finance Minister’s allocation of Rs 2,23,846 crore towards healthcare, a whopping 137% rise from the budget last year, is worthy of applause.
Has healthcare got the boost it deserves?
Despite the gung-ho around increasing the healthcare allocation considerably, the fact can’t be brushed aside that some budgetary supports are only meant for one time such as Finance Commission grant of Rs 13,000-crore and earmarking of Rs 35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccination efforts. The allotted budget of Rs 21,158 crores for water and sanitization is also bundled in the healthcare outlay, resulting in overall 137% hike.
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Enhancing healthcare infrastructure in the country requires more than just one-time support and far more concerted efforts to meet the committed increase in healthcare spend to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2025.
Yet, a good start in the right direction
Even if the increased allocations are more than that meets the eye, it is a welcome start. The pandemic was a wake-up call towards particularly investing in Research and Development (R&D), immunization, nutrition programs and preventive and curative healthcare. It drew attention of the government towards the fragile healthcare infrastructure that we have and the gaps in the sector that need to be filled to ramp up the overall system.
Besides, the allocation of Rs 124.42 crores on various initiatives for development of pharmaceutical industry shows the government has recognized the importance to invest in the sector. The pharma industry should use the opportunity to accelerate essential drugs and raise awareness towards preventive and curative aspects among the masses. It is time players in the pharma sector hammer home the need for budget allocation in proportion to what is required for cutting pharma imports from China, something that will help make drugs affordable for the common masses. The budgetary boost will also provide pharma an impetus to invest in new and innovative media, especially in the digital space that has emerged as a powerful medium with huge potential for pharma brands to cut marketing costs, the effect of which would reflect upon reduced drug prices. All this would make healthcare more accessible and affordable.
Overall, for the healthcare sector the budget has delivered what it long needed. The government’s attention – to spend on improving the quality of healthcare infrastructure and be future ready to deal with health crises of any magnitude.
(The author is Founder & CEO of Doceree. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)