India’s health budget up by 15 percent

February 29th, 2008 - 7:40 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of P. Chidambaram

New Delhi, Feb 29 (IANS) India will spend 15 percent more on health with special emphasis on HIV/AIDS, polio and healthcare for the rural and urban poor. Announcing the budget for health for 2008-09 Friday, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram allocated Rs.165.34 billion for the sector. The outlay will also be utilised to strengthen and upgrade the country’s medical and public health system.

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 all anti-AIDS drugs and cut customs duty from 10 percent to five percent on life saving drugs.

Focusing on the polio scare in the country, particularly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the minister allocated Rs.10.42 billion for a revised strategy on the crippling disease. India recorded 864 cases in 2007 as against 676 cases the previous year.

Already this year, India has reported 82 cases, more than the number of cases reported in entire 2005.

However, the expenditure on health in terms of GDP remains nearly 1.15 percent.

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.

He said India had trained 462,000 women health volunteers, popularly known as ASHA, and upgraded 323 district hospitals across the country.

Calling the education and health sectors “the twin pillars on which rests the edifice of social sector reforms”, the minister made two major interventions — under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, every worker in the unorganised sector in the below poverty line (BPL) category and his family would get health cover of Rs.30,000.

For the elderly, a National Programme for the Elderly is to be started in 2008-09.

Apart from focusing on HIV/AIDS and polio, the ministry of health and family welfare, which will get Rs.155.8 billion, will complete projects like setting-up six prototypes of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and upgrading 13 existing medical college institutions.

A pilot project on the national programme for prevention and control of deafness is being launched in 25 districts in the next two years with the aim of preventing avoidable hearing loss and ensuring early identification, diagnosis and treatment. A sum of Rs.100 million has been allocated for the programme.

Under the Urban Health Mission, which will focus on the urban poor, a health insurance scheme has been introduced with a provision of Rs.420 million.

The budget provides for Rs.10 billion for the Aam Admi Bima Yojana that provides insurance cover to poor households. This will cover 10 million poor households in addition to the 10 million likely to be covered by Sep 30 this year.

The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana will be functional from April 1, 2008. Initially it will start in states of Delhi and neighbouring Haryana.

Chidambaram also announced a five-year tax holiday for setting up hospitals in Tier-II and Tier-III cities.

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