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Health for all, but how

The issue of health has always been close to the heart of every government either at Centre or in the states. The reason: A disease-free India will help in enriching the financial health of the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too echoes similar sentiments. To make it possible, Modi launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan pledging that a clean India will eradicate diseases from the country. No doubt, it was a welcome move, but nobody had anticipated that the Clean India would get a push at the cost of compromising with health care sector.

This has reflected in the Union Budget 2015-16 presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. The annual financial statement this year has seen a dip of 5.7 per cent in allocations. An outlay of Rs.33,152 crore has been made for the sector and the newly created Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) allotted Rs 1,214 crore. Despite the cut, Union Health Minister JP Nadda has hailed the budget as balanced, progressive, pragmatic and pro-people, while various stakeholders have raised their reservations over the allocations. Notably, the present allocation is Rs 2011 crore is much less than the last year’s final outlay which was Rs 35,163 crore after cutting it down from the total Rs 39,237 crore announced in the Budget 2014-15. As an initiative to boost the public health sector in the country, the government has decided to set up six new AIIMS-like institutes in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and Bihar. How these projects would be funded is still unknown.

With the cut in health budget, it’s unlikely that the schemes aimed at providing affordable health to citizens would be implemented effectively. The Centre had promised to provide at least 50 life saving drugs for free to patients, which now looks like a distant dream. Poor patients suffering from cancer, TB, AIDS, diabetes or any high-risk diseases cannot afford to buy drugs available in open market at exploitative prices. The stories of families selling their properties or getting into the trap of money-lenders to save patients suffering from serious ailments are often reported. While infrastructure development is important, equally important are needs of health sector. A developed country cannot have its citizens living in poor health.

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