Millennium Post

Hoping for health sans care

Creating infrastructure is not going to improve India’s health. But today’s budget was focused on this aspect. Money has been given for making more AIIMS-like institutes, more medical colleges, referral Institutes for higher dental studies and institutes for the ageing. More infrastructure has been promised for strengthening the drug and food regulatory systems. Under this, laboratories would be built.

One fails to understand how this will help. It has often been pointed out that most of the health problems are a result of lack of trained people to run the healthcare system. Take the case of food and drug labs. In the absence of inspectors and technicians, it is impossible to collect and check samples. We need not only more inspectors and technicians but also more nurses, paramedics and community health workers. The effort to augment their numbers was not visible. Even if additional medical colleges churn out more doctors, these too would work only in urban centres unless a mechanism to ensure that they go to rural areas is put in place.

The budget also failed to explain what kind of money is going to be available for programmes like the free drug service and the free diagnosis service. These are ambitious programmes. Both have been experimented with earlier and both have failed. Free drugs require a lot of money, but the budget speech was silent on the amount sanctioned for it. Promising free diagnostics is an even more ambitious and expensive plan. In preventive healthcare, the new government has increased excise duty on cigarettes in the range of 11 per cent to 72 per cent. Similar increases have also been proposed for other tobacco products. Aerated soft drinks too have been taxed at an additional five per cent. But in the same breath, the government has decided to remove customs duty of palm oil, which too is considered bad for health. Such exceptions put local healthy oils like mustard oil at risk.
Most of the programmes proposed in the budget move slowly. These programmes will have to run for at least 15 years for the results to be visible and the government will have to stay in power for that long to reap the benefits. It is either a case of political short sightedness or we are dealing with an extremely philanthropic government.

By arrangement with Down to Earth magazine
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