The runaway success of the government’s Ni-kshay Mitra initiative, involving ‘adoption’ of tuberculosis patients by individual and institutional volunteers to help meet the former’s nutritional and medical needs, should provide a template for crowdfundig occasional support for social sector programmes. Under the initiative, volunteers can support patients on dietary, medical (including diagnostics), and occupational training expenditure. Data shows, of the 1.35 million TB patients who are receiving treatment in the country, over 992,000 have consented to receive support under Ni-kshay Mitra. Already, there are commitments to support 991,000 patients, with a pool of 19,839 volunteers comprising individuals, corporates, NGOs, lawmakers, among others.
Reducing the number of TB patients ranks among the top public health priorities for India. The country reported a 19% increase in cases over the preceding year, with Covid-19 disruptions slowing detection in 2020 because of the long lockdown and hesitation among people to visit hospitals, apart from increasing people’s vulnerability to the disease (poor nutrition and living conditions significantly push up risks of contraction). Indeed, under-nutrition has been reported in over a third of the cases in India. The Centre’s Ni-kshay Poshan Yojana (NPY), as also programmes run by certain states, to support nutritional adequacy among TB patients have had a lacklustre impact. Under the NPY, TB patients undergoing treatment are entitled to a direct benefit transfer of Rs 500 per month to prop their nutrition budget. However, data from the Union health ministry shows about two-fifths of 2.1 million notified cases never received even a single payment in 2021. So, the need for better outreach and more support can’t be emphasised enough.
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Ni-kshay Mitra, against such a backdrop, comes as a big boon for India’s efforts to beat TB (the country has set a target to eliminate the disease by 2025). Its early success can be attributed to the ease of registration and payment, ushered in by growing digitalisation. Online registration for the initiative allows a person to choose how exactly they want to come to the aid of a patient, whether it is in supporting dietary, medical or other costs. A volunteer can also choose the period of support—ranging from 6 months to three years—the district and facility where such support is to be extended. The State machinery is to play a supportive role. The government, both the Centre and the states, should perhaps check if Ni-kshay Mitra success can be replicated for other crowdfunding efforts.
So far, government-led crowd-funding has met with little success. For instance, the health ministry’s Digital Portal for Crowdfunding & Voluntary Donations for Patients of Rare Diseases, launched in August 2021, has 373 registered patients, but just Rs 190,000 in donations so far.
Compare this with the stellar success private platforms have seen—ImpactGuru raised `125 crore through 1,200 campaigns in just over a year. Targetted social media campaigns, web advertising, and robust marketing have ensured better reach of private platforms. However, Ni-kshay Mitra or such crowdfunding efforts must be seen as merely supplementary to State efforts; the larger need is to fix gaps in the latter. Indeed, fixing some of the problems in the existing State efforts could ensure greater impact for a Ni-kshay Mitra. For instance, one of the reasons NPY has struggled is poor linkage of beneficiary bank accounts. Such systemic problems could trip even the best planned crowdfunding.