India needs to invest more in public healthcare: WHO
"We know that nations need a healthy population to prosper. Stepping up investment in public healthcare is pivotal to sustaining India's economic growth. Investing in health is investing in India's growth story," Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India, told PTI.
"We, therefore, need to and swiftly advance and accelerate progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the Sustainable Development Goals, especially the health goal," he suggested.
According to Bekedam, though India has made enormous progress in the healthcare sector in recent past, still "60 million people are in poverty through paying healthcare bills mainly because of the country's low investment in health, inadequate financial protection and high out-of-pocket expenditure".
He said many more abstain from health services or delay seeking healthcare due to financial difficulties.
In this context, the WHO proposed a few steps of working with the government to position health higher on the agenda, both at the national and state levels.
Besides investment, strengthening the systems to detect and respond to outbreaks and new emerging diseases, accelerating effective financial protection to ensure no one goes into poverty as a result of using health services and finally, ensuring that there is a strong monitoring and evaluation system in place are also required, Bekedam said.
He also praised India for combating HIV, TB and malaria as as well as the avertable maternal and child mortality, saying the country's major challenge is "safeguarding the population from slipping into poverty due to healthcare bills".
"All these require increased investments, as has been demonstrated from global experiences with SARS, pandemic A/H1N1, H5N1, Nepal earthquake and Ebola. Strengthening the surveillance capacity is a key step forward. We still have a high burden of communicable diseases.
"Adding to this is increased noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and we need to invest more in creating awareness about prevention of NCDs," Bekedam said.
On whether India is ready to face the emerging threat of lifestyle diseases, he said, "The NCD agenda is complex, requires a call for a coordinated multi sectoral response through a 'whole of government' and 'whole of society' approach."