NEW DELHI, India — In its 2014 National Budget, India has promised “Health for All,” but at the government’s current pace of establishing healthcare facilities and services—especially in rural areas—this will be a steep goal for the year.
The Indian government has allocated funds to establish 15 rural health research centers and other health institutes in several states. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also confirmed 12 new government medical colleges, on top of the 58 that have already been approved. The total spending allowance for these improvements was increased by five percent from the 2013 National Budget.
The Health for All initiative focuses heavily on providing free drugs to those in need.
“For the first time, the Central government will provide assistance to strengthen the states’ Drug Regulatory and Food Regulatory Systems,” Jaitley said.
This translates to the creation of new drug testing laboratories and the updating of existing labs.
In terms of health improvements for disabled or differently-abled people, the Union Budget leaves much to be desired. However, it does assure funding for states to set up braille presses. It also provides a portion of funds to help disabled people purchase assistive devices.
These potential 2014 improvements sound promising. Yet, the shortcomings of past healthcare initiatives tell a different story.
Although other healthcare programs have been announced in budgets, they have not been implemented efficiently. A report in The Times of India revealed that two hospitals referenced in the state budget every year from 1998 to 2014 have yet to be completed. The changing governments continued to claim that they were improving and expanding specialized sectors, but after 16 years, neither hospital has ever admitted a patient. Two other specialized hospitals in Delhi also remain under construction for an indeterminate amount of time.
These hospitals were meant to bring specialized health care to the lower classes of Delhi, many members of which cannot afford private hospitals. The delays have resulted in unnecessary loss of life among the region’s population. Furthermore, officials have no plausible excuse for the delays.
Former Health Ministers AK Walia, Yoganand Shastri and Kiran Walia cited political change and upheaval as an explanation, but the Congress Government had been strong in Delhi for the duration of construction.
The 2014 budget has allocated more funds for healthcare in an effort to ameliorate past shortcomings. Unfortunately, even the increased amount remains inadequate. Because of underfunding in the government sector, there has been massive growth in private hospitals—affordable only for the rich. And because private hospitals are better constructed and equipped, doctors and nurses are flocking to these locations for work.
In a country that has only one doctor for every 1800 people, this is stacking the odds against poor citizens.
Another challenge for Indian health initiatives is ‘rural reluctance.’ Not only are healthcare professionals abandoning public hospitals, but they are also shunning work in rural regions. This is an escalating problem, especially because the majority of the population lives in rural areas where the state of medical facilities and services is woefully inadequate.
Health for All shows potential for finally reaching out to poor and rural Indians, but it remains to be seen how efficiently and effectively the initiative will be implemented.
– Mari LeGagnoux