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Time for Telangana to Have Universal Health Coverage

The global monitoring report of the World Health Organization (WHO) that came out in 2017 said half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential medical services and nearly 800 million people spend at least 10 percent of their household budgets on healthcare for themselves or family members. The situation is no different in Telangana where barring Below Poverty Line (BPL) families who have health coverage through Aarogyasri and the wealthy who can afford private health insurance, a vast majority of the public in the lower-middle and upper-middle class bracket are regularly exposed to financial distress whenever a health emergency strikes the family. Against this backdrop, enhanced public healthcare spending and a well-crafted Universal Health Coverage scheme that protects all the families from financial hardships during a medical emergency should ideally have taken utmost precedence.

According to a WHO report titled ‘Public Spending on Health: A Closer Look at Global Trends’, researchers say a healthcare delivery system with higher public spending goes a long way in improving financial protection for individuals and families. The WHO also defined ‘universal health coverage’ as all people having access to quality health services without financial hardships. This means that people from all walks of life irrespective of their financial background must be able to have access to quality healthcare services without experiencing financial hardships. For long, public health experts have been advocating for enhanced public healthcare spending and universal health coverage, which will provide quality health services to more people. Such a scheme will make families financially secure, which means there will always food on the table and families can afford other necessities and there is no risk of poverty. To achieve universal health coverage, it becomes vital to increase public healthcare funding to strengthen and build a robust primary healthcare system and also improve healthcare service delivery, the WHO report argued.

Public health spending must improve: WHO

While public spending on health is on the rise in rich countries, the same is not happening in low-income countries, the WHO report said. In middle and lower-middle income countries, including India, economic growth is a predominant driver of the spending. However, in these countries, budget prioritization has not been fully tapped, leaving space for more investments in health. More attention is needed to prioritizing health in domestic budgets and to better exploiting economic growth to increase health spending as countries transition from external aid, the WHO report added.

Targets can be met only through spending: Experts

Healthcare infrastructure is a vital part of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are aimed at reducing Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), C-sections and improving vaccinations etc. While the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had introduced several initiatives to address the Key Health Indicators (KHIs) since health is always a State subject, it all boils down to individual States and their level of public funding that goes into developing healthcare infrastructure, senior public health experts here said. The WHO in its report on public spending said a health system that depends on government funding, as well as a high share of public sources in overall health spending, generally provides better and more equitable access to services and better financial protection. “However, increased public spending must be complemented with much-needed reforms in healthcare sectors, proper manpower support and better service delivery mechanism,” senior doctors said. Another vital point raised by the WHO report is the role of public funding and its role in reducing inequity in access to services. “Government spending only reduces inequities in access when allocations are carefully planned to ensure that the entire population can obtain primary healthcare facilities,” the report said. – Telangana Today