On Health and Nutrition, Budget 2019 is Lacklustre and Uninspiring -Dipa Sinha
The budget does little for the most vulnerable populations such as women working in the informal sector or their young children.
Just by looking at the numbers, the Budget for health seems promising. The total allocation for the department of health and family welfare (HFW) has increased by about 16%, which could be seen as a substantial hike considering there was hardly any year-on-year expansion during the previous term of this government. The total budget for the department for 2019-20 is Rs 62,659.12 crore, compared to the BE of Rs 52,800 last year. The budget for health is also not highly different from what was presented in the interim budget.
While many hoped otherwise, some issues that plague the health sector have still not received adequate attention.
In the recent electoral campaign, health was among the major issues raised by the ruling party, with the BJP projecting health both as an achievement (with the launch of Ayushman Bharat) and as a priority for future. Further, considering that the Budget comes at the heels of the death of more than 150 children due to the ongoing encephalitis crisis in Bihar, there was expected to be a greater focus on health.
These deaths were entirely preventable and highlighted the failures of the public health system and the urgent need to strengthen the delivery of healthcare, especially at the primary level. The importance of paying attention to nutrition and sanitation was also underscored.
However, the present government’s strategy for health continues to be more biased towards the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), which basically provides insurance coverage for hospitalisation. The big increase within the health budget has been for PMJAY, from Rs 2,400 crores to Rs 6,400 crores. On the one hand, it has been pointed out earlier that this is probably not enough even to cover the Central government’s share towards premium charges for PMJAY, on the other, the inappropriateness of such a strategy for the health situation in India has also been widely written about.
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