Union finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman announced a total additional spend of Rs 2.23 lakh crore on “healthcare and well being” as part of Union Budget 2021, including Rs 35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccine development and inoculation.
This allocation is claimed to be a 137% increase from last year.
The key recommendations that she spelt out in this additional healthcare spend included an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore over the next 6 years on healthcare infrastructure development under a new centrally sponsored scheme entitled Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana. This is aimed at increasing capacities in primary, secondary and tertiary care facilities, existing healthcare research institutions and setting up a new research institution to detect new emerging diseases. The other provisions are to strengthen and set up health surveillance centres and virology research institutes.
There was a mixed response from the country’s healthcare industry and professionals to the recommendations, with the majority seeing in them some much needed and keenly awaited support.
“The Union Budget this year has clearly announced the paradigm shift in the way we look at health and wellness in our country,” said Cdr Navneet Bali, Regional Director, Northern India, Narayana Health.
He added: “Setting up of health and wellness centres in rural and urban India, establishing integrated public health labs and the announcement of Rs 35,000 crore towards vaccines are very important and critical steps. Along with that, thinking about clean air missions in 42 urban areas with a million plus population, the setting up of critical care hospital blocks in 602 districts in India etc are again very important steps which will strengthen the country’s healthcare.”
According to Dr Anand Bansal, Medical Director at Action Group of Hospitals, this budget was keenly awaited, especially for the announcements in regard to the health sector as the world has gone through sudden and unprecedented changes amid COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the amount of Rs. 35,000 crores announced for COVID-19 vaccination will strengthen this fight against the pandemic, he said.
This budget is satisfactory and full of vision, he said. Considering the challenges our healthcare sector is facing, things will surely need time to reflect results on a larger scale, he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Prathap C Reddy, Chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group said this ground-breaking focus on health will provide access to medical care for all, fuel job creation and boost economic momentum.
“India’s efforts at managing the pandemic have been exemplary – our frontline workers and scientists have been working tirelessly to save lives and develop indigenous vaccines. Now the allocation of Rs. 35,000 crores for COVID-19 vaccines and more if required, makes our glorious nation stand tall as a model for the world,” he added.
“The establishment of healthcare infrastructure in the form of critical care units and hospital blocks will also help spur the growth of the domestic market and place India as a key player in global markets,” said Rajinish Menon, Founder and CEO, Sukino Healthcare, India’s First Continuum Care Provider.
To stall pandemic
The finance minister’s commitment to providing more funds in order to contain the Coronavirus pandemic spread in the country and provide an effective, smooth path for the vaccination scheme will help contain, and lead our nation towards accomplishing a COVID-19-free Bharat, said Dr Krishna Ella, Chairman & Managing Director, Bharat Biotech. 2021-22.
“The layout plan of a ₹64,180 crore spending plan for healthcare over the next six years to be spent on primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare, in addition to the National Health Mission is also a welcome move, which will strengthen public health services as 17,000 rural and 11,000 urban health and wellness centres and integrated public health labs to be set up in each district. The government focus, on three areas – preventive health, curative health and well-being, is also very reassuring,” said Dr Ella.
With this landmark budget, the government of India has signalled its intention to make health a cornerstone of the future success of our country. The allocation to vaccines signals a shift to preventive health care, a validation of the fact that vaccines are the most cost-effective health care interventions, he added.