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Budget 2021: PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana to boost health infrastructure

PB Jayakumar     February 1, 2021

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman's Budget for 2021-22 has given an unprecedented boost to create healthcare infrastructure in the country, a sector ignored over the years for many decades, feel experts.

The budget, which allocated Rs 2,23,846 crore for health and wellbeing launched a new centrally sponsored scheme, PM AtmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, with an outlay of about Rs 64,180 crores over 6 years. The earlier allocations to health and wellbeing were Rs 94,452 crore in 2020-21 and Rs 86,259 crore in 2019-20.

The scheme is to develop capacities of primary, secondary, and tertiary care health systems, strengthen existing national institutions, and create new institutions, to cater to detection and cure of new and emerging diseases.

In February 2018, the Indian Government had announced Ayushman Bharat Program (ABP) with two components of Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs), to deliver comprehensive primary health care (PHC) services to the entire population. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) was launched for improving access to hospitalisation services at secondary and tertiary level health facilities for bottom 40% of total population. The plans were to have 1,50,000 Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) by December 2022. The first HWC was launched on 14 April 2018 and by 31 March 2020, a total 38,595 AB-HWCs were operational across India.

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Under this, support will be given to develop 17,788 rural and 11,024 urban health and wellness centers and set up integrated public health labs in all districts and 3,382 block public health units in 11 states. The scheme will help to establish critical care hospital blocks in 602 districts and 12 central institutions, strengthening of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), its 5 regional branches and 20 metropolitan health surveillance units and expansion of the Integrated Health Information Portal to all States/UTs to connect all public health labs.

Further, 17 new Public Health Units will be started, besides strengthening of 33 existing public health units at Points of Entry, that is at 32 airports, 11 seaports and 7 land crossings, besides setting up of 15 Health Emergency Operation Centers and 2 mobile hospitals.

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Further, the sheme will help setting up of a national institution for One Health, a regional research platform for WHO South East Asia Region, 9 Bio-Safety Level III laboratories and 4 regional National Institutes for Virology.

"Healthcare spend is proposed to more than double and this  will help in rolling out the vaccination program as well as strengthen the delivery system and build better capability and capacity to combat any future pandemics. India is rolling out the world's second largest vaccination program and the Government has provided for almost 5 bn USD in the next year's budget to make it happen. Besides curative care the focus on preventive and well being will usher in a more holistic approach to reduce morbidity and mortality," said  Rana Mehta, Partner and Leader Healthcare, PwC India.

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"This shows that the government is serious about the steps needed to reach that level of health preparedness. The announcement of the new centrally funded scheme, PM Swasthya Yojana with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore, will strengthen and develop primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare facilities even in the last miles of our nation," said Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder & Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals. "There is no doubt that by raising the healthcare budget by 137%, the government has sent a huge signal. This was a long pressing need. The fact that the government has spoken of preventive health, curative health and well being altogether implies that all grounds have been covered," said Dr. Tushar Grover, Medical Director, Vision Eye Centre.

"We have experienced the need for better healthcare in the country and hence the setting up of 17,000 rural and 11,000 urban health and wellness centers is a great step. But, when we look at the figures, the allocation of healthcare budget, is a very slight increase of 5.7% to Rs 67,484 crores as compared to the last year's Rs 63,830 crores. This is lesser than the target spending of 2.5% of GDP on healthcare," said Shabnum Khan, Founder, 750ad Healthcare.

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