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A Booster Shot That Wasn’t

Experts in the business of healthcare are clearly not enthused by what was announced in the February 1 Union Budget. An increase of Rs 6,000 crore in the budgetary outlay for the health sector, some say, is ‘inadequate’. “The overall outlay of Rs 69,000 crore, up from Rs 62,659 crore announced last year, is clearly inadequate considering the health challenges facing the country and the stated goal of turning India into a caring society,” says Ameera Shah, Promoter & MD, Metropolis Healthcare, a leading diagnostic chain.

Proposal to levy cess on specified imported medical devices, in order to boost domestic production, while a good idea in theory, has found criticism from sector experts. “The imposition of health cess on imported medical devices is a worrisome move and is contrary to the government’s vision of providing affordable healthcare to Indian patients, which largely depends on imported technologies,” says Stryker’s India MD, Meenakshi Nevatia, a leading medical equipment manufacturer. “The removal of duty exemption on critical implants will hugely impact the ability of medical device companies to continue bringing innovative medical implants to India,” she adds. According to Shah, “with respect to the scheme related to medical devices, unfortunately, we still do not have the indigenous capability to manufacture high-quality devices here in India and thus by imposing cess, it will ultimately make healthcare services more expensive.”

Booster Dose

But there are several good bits too if one pays closer attention. For example, the expansion of the Ayushman Bharat scheme through the development of hospitals in tier II and III cities, via the PPP (public-private-partnership) route has found heaps of praises from the healthcare industry. Dr. Om Manchanda, CEO, Dr. Lal PathLabs believes that PM Jan Arogya Yojana (setting up of more than 20,000 hospitals), TB Harega Desh Jeetega campaign (commitment to end Tuberculosis by 2025) and Jan Aushadhi Kendra Scheme (offer 2000 medicines and 300 surgical in all districts by 2024) are important moves toward improving the standard of living of every individual and of providing access to necessary health aid. “Designing of a preventive regime to combat various disease using Machine learning & AI will be a progressive and imperative step towards sustainable development of the healthcare sector,” adds Manchanda.

A proposal by NITI Ayog, the Center’s think tank, on linking medical colleges to district hospitals via PPP where private players could be called upon for supporting and sustaining medical infrastructure informed a part of the Budget speech by the finance minister.

In addition to making affordable healthcare available, the announcements made by the FM were directed towards encouraging preventive healthcare through the use of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial intelligence (AI). During her speech, she underscored the government’s commitment of making India Tuberculosis free by 2025 (ahead of the global target of 2030) and pointed out that this programme is on track. The Finance Minister also announced the establishment of 150,000 HWCs (health and wellness centres) by 2022. She further added that Jan Aushadi Kendra Scheme will be expanded and these stores will carry an increased quantity of medicines and surgical equipment – 2000 medicines and 300 surgical by 2024.

Stress on Holistic Healthcare
The Budget proposals for FY21 also covers aspects like nutrition, clean air and water. In fact, the finance minister has made allocations of Rs 35,600 crore for nutrition-related programmes, Rs 4,400 crore to combat pollution and Rs 3.6 lakh crore towards piped water supply to households.

“Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) are responsible for two-thirds of the total morbidity burden and according to the World Economic Forum, by 2030, the world could lose over $30 trillion and about 36 million people could die every year due to NCDs if rapid remedial action is not taken up. Hence, in addition to initiatives announced to improve access to medical care across the nation and boost human health resources, it was encouraging that vital determinant of good health which include wellness, nutrition, clean drinking water and sanitation were at the forefront of this Budget,” says Prathap C. Reddy, Chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group.

Likewise, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan termed this Budget as one that has a strong focus on holistic health and wellness and one that has positioned healthcare as a key aspect in the growth journey of India.-Business World

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