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The long overdue attention to health in Budget 2021 is welcome, even if no surprise, given the context of Covid. Of note is the systems approach adopted by the government. Health is not just about clinics, hospitals, labs, doctors and medical personnel; it is also about nutrition, sanitation, general cleanliness, clean air and water.
The budget focuses on building capacity and promoting wellbeing. The task ahead is to ensure that these plans are carried through. The pandemic underscores the importance of investing in health — public expenditure was 1.29% of GDP in 2019-20, lagging not just developed countries but the Brics nations as well. The gap reflects in both health infrastructure and outcomes.
Budget 2021seeks to correct that — an increase in outlay, 137% over the last year’s allocation for health and well-being, including a one-off outlay of Rs 35,000 crore for vaccines and a near-fourfold increase in the outlay on water and sanitation.
The Centre’s decision to fund capacity-building at primary, secondary and tertiary levels (allocating Rs 64,180 crore over six years) will provide the basis for a healthcare system that can deal with emerging diseases. This plan must take on board the existing capacities, including in the private sector. India’s experience with the Covid pandemic underscores the importance of prevention. In a country of the size and wide diversity as well as huge disparities of India, focusing on well-being or preventing the occurrence of disease is equally critical. Improved sanitation, access to potable water, clean air and better nutrition help minimise the occurrence of comorbidities that make the population vulnerable.
Strengthening Mission Poshan, particularly in the 112 aspirational districts, will help improve health outcomes as well as productivity of the population in these areas. Dealing with air pollution, waste management, bioremediation of legacy dump sites and vehicle scrapping as health issues is an important change in approach and will make a difference in implementation.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.