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It's time for a recovery

If the new health policy in India can diagnose and treat the rot in the system, we stand a chance of getting back on our feet.

comment Updated: Jan 05, 2015, 00:11 IST
Hindustan Times

It has been in the making for 13 long years. Now, the Union government has come up with a new national health policy.

In these intervening years, much has changed in the health landscape of the country but the delivery system has failed to live up to the new challenges.

While there has been a surge in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, mental illness, respiratory disorders and other chronic ailments, the state's investment in healthcare has failed to match the requirements of the population. One reason for this is the low investment in public health.

In 2011, India's total spend on public healthcare was just 4.1% of GDP, while experts say that unless a nation spends 5-6% of its GDP and the major part of it from government expenditure, basic healthcare needs are seldom met.

In a country where most people cannot afford private healthcare, the rickety state system is forcing the poor to access expensive private healthcare. In many cases, this leads families to slip into abject poverty.

India compares poorly with many developing countries. The reasons for this dismal situation are not far to seek: A shortage in several categories of health professionals and frontline functionaries, a weak regulatory system and variable standards of governance across states.

The result of this low investment in public health has also been one of the reasons for India consistently being at the bottom of the development indices and also recurrent public health disasters like the recent deaths in a sterilisation camp in Chhattisgarh.

The heartening news is that the NDA government is working on proposals to make health a 'fundamental right' in the way that has been done for education.

The government is also exploring the possibility of creating a 'health cess' on the lines of the education cess that could mobilise contributions from specific commodity taxes such as those on tobacco and alcohol and from specific industries as well as innovative forms of resource mobilisation.

This interest in health - the importance of educated and healthy human resources in the economic growth of a country cannot be undermined - is a much-needed push.

In fact, along with the Clean India Campaign, the government must prioritise its 'Health for All' plan.

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