Experts nudge government to spend more on health

February 22nd, 2008 - 8:31 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, Feb 22 (IANS) India’s public healthcare system is “virtually collapsing” with less than one percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) allocated towards it, against the government promise of three percent, experts said here Friday. They said even the funds allocated in the union budget 2006-07 for the sector were not utilised fully.

Asking the central government to keep its promise to invest in health sector three percent of the GDP, instead of the current 0.9 percent, Ravi Duggal, activist and expert on health, said: “The public health system in the country is weakening and the system is collapsing.”

“There has been no investment and the allocation has been negligible. There has been no spending on new infrastructure and even those existing ones need maintenance,” said Duggal, who is a supporter of “Wada Na Toda Abhiyan”(Do not break your promises), a network of 3,000 volunteers across 23 states monitoring the United Progressive Alliance government’s health spending on the ground.

He said the health budget is not even one-third of the defence budget.

“The total expenditure of the central government on health and family welfare went up from Rs.9649.24 crore (Rs.96.4 billion) in 2005-06 to Rs.11,757.74 crore (Rs.117.5 billion) in 2006-07, which has further been increased to Rs.15,854.88 crore (Rs.158.5 billion) in 2007-08,” he told reporters here.

However, Duggal said it was still hovering around one percent of the GDP at the national level.

About 33.8 percent of the allocated funds were not utilised in 2006-07, he added.

“We need more investment. It is less than Brazil and even Nepal.”

States like Orissa, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are investing money in the healthcare and building up infrastructure, as compared to Maharashtra, which he said is the worst state in terms of spending on health.

Sandhya Venkateswaran, who is the convener of the health programmes of the voluntary organisation, said: “The union budget for 2008-09 is the last opportunity for the government to show and prove that it does what it says.”

“It must allocate at least the promised three percent, instead of the abysmal 0.9 percent of the GDP to the health sector.”

Avinash Kumar, health policy expert with the organisation, said: “More women die of childbirth in India than anywhere else in the world. Of the 5.36 lakh such death in 2005 globally, more than 20 percent were in India.”

He said increased allocation to the health sector alone can help recruit and train 200,000 more auxiliary nurse midwife and set up 21,983 new health sub-centres at the primary level to achieve the health service coverage envisaged in the government’s ambitious National Rural Health Mission, which aims to provide healthcare to people living in rural areas.

He said the organisation is also carrying out a “9 is Mine” campaign, a national campaign led by children reminding the government to keep its promise of investing three percent of the GDP into health and six percent into education as promised in the Common Minimum Programme of the ruling alliance.

Kumar said everyday 5,000 children were sending a reminder postcard to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram since Nov 14, 2007.

“So far 300,000 signatures have been submitted.”

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