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BW Businessworld

Budget 20-21: Healthcare Via Healthy Living

This year’s Union Budget promotes the concept of holistic healthcare based on an understanding that the best investment in healthcare is prevention of disease, and it is also considerably cheaper than tackling disease and treatment

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Healthcare has be­come the latest buz­zword across the world but more so in India thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. India’s woefully inadequate healthcare infrastructure and how little it spends on its public healthcare have been a talking point for a greater part of the pandemic. And so everybody was waiting to see what Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman would do when she presents the Union Budget for FY22. Healthcare was on top of her mind, in­deed. 

Sitharaman unveiled a healthcare budget that she claimed was 137 per cent higher than last year’s allocation. All in all, she allocated Rs 223,846 crore for healthcare under various heads against last year’s outlay of Rs 94,452 crore.

Specifically, the FM announced Rs 35,000 crore for the production and dis­tribution of the Covid-19 vaccine. This was much needed, given how the coun­try has struggled with the pandemic over the last year. An allocation of Rs 64,180 crore to be spent over six years was made towards the PM Atmanirb­har Swasth Bharat Yojana, which would focus on developing primary, second­ary, and tertiary care health systems, strengthen existing national institu­tions, and create new institutions for detection and curing of new and emerg­ing diseases.

Although a section of experts feels the FM has not done enough as per the need of the sector, the 137 per cent in­crease in allocation is in line with the industry expectations of 2.5-3 per cent of the GDP. India’s public healthcare outlay hitherto has been around 1.3 per cent of its GDP. 

These experts also point out that the 137 per cent increase includes the allocation towards water, environ­ment and nutrition, which is essentially handled by separate ministries – so in essence the actual allocation is not all that much. They also lament the lack of any incentives for the sector in the Budget. 

According to Suchi Ray, Partner, De­loitte India, no sector specific direct tax amendment have been brought in to provide tax holidays or incentives. 

According to Neerja Birla, Founder & Chairperson, Mpower, a community that works toward promoting mental well-being, given how hard last year was due to the pandemic, mental well-being should have found a substan­tial allocation in the budget. “As aptly mentioned by the FM in the Budget speech, last year was an undeniably tough year for our physical and men­tal well-being. Covid-19 has brought India’s mental health crisis to the fore. Unfortunately, the rising number of cases of mental illness has not been accompanied by a parallel rise in the budget allocation for mental health­care.” 

She adds that it is crucial to acknowl­edge the importance of mental health­care and invest in educating citizens to make them aware of mental health services available in India while taking measures to alleviate the stigma associ­ated with it. 

But by and large, the budget has been lauded for taking a holistic view of healthcare and its emphasis on disease prevention and wellness. 

The Right Move 

The allocation towards the production and the distribution of the Covid vac­cine came in for praise from the indus­try. Krishna Ella, Chairman & Manag­ing Director, Bharat Biotech and the maker of Covaxin, lauded the allocation for ridding the country of the dreadful Covid-19 disease. 

Echoing the sentiment, Suchitra Ella, Joint MD, Bharat Biotech says, “It is en­couraging to note the creation of nine Bio Safety Lab-III in this Budget, that will boost research and scientific dis­coveries. With this landmark Budget the government has signalled its inten­tion to make health a cornerstone of the future success of our country.” 

On the nutrition front, the govern­ment is going to merge the Supple­mentary Nutrition Programme and the Poshan Abhiyan and launch Mission Poshan 2.0. Through this, the govern­ment intends to adopt an intensified strategy to improve nutritional out­comes across 112 districts. 

“It was heartening to witness health and well-being as one of six key pillars for the proposals. In fact, the emphasis on preventive healthcare and launch of Mission Poshan 2.0 will strengthen nutritional content, delivery, outreach, and outcome and will further augur well for the nutraceutical industry,” says Anshu Budhraja, CEO, Amway India. 

“Given the focus on a holistic healthcare system, we were looking forward to GST rationalisation on healthcare supplements from 18 to 5 per cent. We are hopeful that the Gov­ernment will direct adequate funds in this direction while working towards a consistent and sustainable approach to address nutrition-related health is­sues,” he adds.

Further, given that clean air, water and environment are important for good health the government has given a boost to the Swacch Bharat mission -- a much-needed move. The focus is on waste water treatment, reduction in single-use plastic, reduction in air pol­lution etc. An allocation of Rs 141,678 crore was announced for a period of five years as part of the Urban Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0. The Jal Jeevan Mis­sion that aims at universal water supply and liquid waste management was given an allocation of Rs 287,000 crore to be spent over five years. 

All in all, the right noises have been made in this Budget. We have to see how well everything gets implemented.

“We Must Decrease The Disease Burden”

EMINENT heart surgeon Naresh Trehan, Chairman & Managing Director, Medanta —The Medicity tells Jyotsna Sharma, BW Businessworld, what he thinks of Budget 21-22 vis-a-vis the healthcare sector. Excerpts:

A 137 per cent hike in the outlay for healthcare as com­pared to last year. What do have to say? 

It is a very important and welcome allocation because the pandemic actually made it very clear to everybody that there were many gaps in our healthcare system. If you look at the structure of it — it emphasisses on things like wellness, preventive, of course curative. The stack is built from ground up and more importantly, the scheme that was announced — PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Yojana — is aggregating all the baseline ele­ments of creating a healthy country. Clean drinking water, sanitation, civic amenities, a wellness centre are all things that actually will improve the health of our people from the ground up. Unless we decrease the dis­ease burden, any amount of expenditure on health will not suffice. 

What aspects could have been given more focus?

The gaps would be in terms of infrastructure and human capital. We will need to create many more streams of doctors, nurses, technicians that are medical personnel. Training, education, upskilling, skilling, all this has to be in tandem with infrastructure development. 

What do make of the Rs 35,000 crore allocation for Cov­id-19 vaccine production and distribution?

This is a very positive development. The key is imple­mentation. However, if we maintain the momentum that we have created in dealing with this pandemic, I have no doubt that we will be successful. 

On improving the healthcare system in Tier 2 & Tier 3 cities...

The focus of this Budget is actually towards that and that is the nice part of it. The pandemic has brought forward a collaboration between the public and the private sector. A cooperation be­tween the two in terms of the delivery of health services and care. There has been the coming together of the scientific community, whether they are in the private space or the govern­ment space to actually create vaccines. It is important to actually lever­age this relationship. I think this is what will actually lead to that healthy India that we dream of.


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