Health sector welcomes increased allocation, asks for more

February 29th, 2008 - 10:04 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of P. Chidambaram

New Delhi, Feb 29 (IANS) Doctors, health entrepreneurs and activists Friday welcomed an increased allocation for the health sector in the budget but said “the designated allocation is inadequate”. “An increase of 15 percent in the healthcare spending is a welcome step but seeing the backwardness in the rural areas and the vast population of India, a greater allocation was expected,” said B.S. Bansal, chief managing director of RG Stone Urology and Laproscopic Hospital.

“Overall, the designated allocation of funds is inadequate,” he added.

Anand Grover, head of the HIV unit of the civil rights group Lawyers Collective, said: “Exemption of excise duty on one anti-AIDS drugs is one good step but there is a long way to go.”

“Currently India is spending less than one percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and this increased allocation is insignificant,” Grover, a Supreme Court lawyer, told IANS.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram increased the health allocation Friday by 15 percent compared to the last fiscal year to Rs.165.34 billion with particular stress on HIV/AIDS, polio and healthcare for the rural and urban poor.

Expressing satisfaction that the prevalence of HIV/AIDs in the country had come down to 0.36 percent from the earlier 0.9 percent, Chidambaram announced Rs.9.93 billion for the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).

NACO is the apex body to prevent, curb and educate people about the disease. India is home to 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients including over 70,000 children below the age of 14.

Chidambaram also exempted excise duty on an expensive anti-AIDS drug and cut customs duty from 10 percent to five percent on lifesaving drugs.

Lysa John of the Wada-Na-Toda-Abhiyan, an NGO, said that the increase was significantly less than the increase implemented in the previous year to the effect of 24 percent.

John, however, said that the start of a national health insurance scheme for unorganised sector workers living below the poverty line and a national programme for the elderly were welcome steps.

Reacting to Chidambaram’s announcement of a five-year tax holiday for setting up hospitals in Tier-II and Tier-III cities, Bansal said: “It’s good news for the healthcare sector.”

“This will enthuse capital rich ventures to invest vigorously in the infrastructure development, hence taking the benefit of medical advancement and new technology to the backward areas.”

Shivinder Mohan Singh chief of Fortis healthcare said: “The announcement of a five-year tax holiday for hospital projects in Tier I and II cities is perhaps the first concrete measure by the government to attract private sector participation in a big way and that too in cities/towns where healthcare delivery is needed the most.”

Chidambaram has made an outlay of Rs.10.42 billion for a revised strategy on polio across the country and especially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. India recorded 864 cases in 2007 as against 676 cases the previous year. In 2008, 82 cases have been reported.

Praising the health ministry’s flagship programme, the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) that aims at improving the healthcare of the rural population, Chidambaram allocated Rs.120.5 billion for the project.

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