Friday, January 27th, 2023 10:32:31

Health in Budget 2022 : Just What the Doctor Ordered

By Dhananjay Kumar
Updated: February 13, 2022 2:16 pm

‘Amrit Kaal’ of healthcare consummate, addressing unmet needs of mental contagion

‘Amrit Kaal’ of healthcare, that began long ago in India, attains its consummation in Union Budget 22with mental aspect of health being given its ‘long overdue’ place in the schemes of continuity of care. Clothed in the metaphor of nectar, the budget optimises to the ideal, true definition of health by World Health Organization (WHO), earning the tag of game changer. And quickly caught the imagination of Public Health watchers and leaders. There is no denying that health in just presented budget is what the doctor ordered. Also, Union Budget 2022 entails health sector allocation up by 16%.

With Union Budget 2022, the age of elixir in healthcare continues unabated.The single provision of big ticket National Tele-mental Health programme will act as tonic (Amrit) on the pandemic scarred minds of over hundreds of millions of people of the country. Call it a veritable ‘Amrit Kaal’ of ‘Modicine’, if you will- a giant leap of faith in healthcare. The ‘Amrit Kaal’ began much before with the launch of Ayushman Bharat, unprecedented allocation for healthcare in the previous budget and crowning it with Vaccination glory. The budget 22 only reiterates the intent of making India healthy in the true sense of the term.

There can be no more appropriate metaphor for health than Amrit. The Union Budget 22 truly enunciates the latest concept of Holistic Health and enhances Indian healthcare to the ideal of health famously defined by World Health Organization (WHO)- that ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely absence of disease and infirmity.’ After Amrit of Vaccine, the tonic for tormented mind.

Besides, Union Budget 2022 entails health sector allocation up by 16%. A couple of other proposals have also been described as game changers in healthcare. Some disappointments have been pointed out as well, the main being no substantial raise in the overall budgetary contribution to the health sector which currently is pegged at abysmal 1.8 percent of the GDP.

There is no gainsaying that the overriding concern today after ravaging pandemic is how to embalm the mental tribulations of all and sundry. The naysayers of Budget and ‘quarter glass empty kind’ of his detractors may be calling healthcare proposals deficient on some counts, the fact is focus on unmet mental needs of people have earned union government acclaim from all corners. Even his hard-boiled opponents could not dare to diminish the utmost importance of this timely proposal. According to many healthcare experts, the healthcare provisions in the budget have amply underlined that the union government is in sync with the healthcare needs of the evolving time.

The COVID 19 pandemic has left in its wake not only death but mental disabilities as well. It has left deep scars on the minds of multitude. The epidemic of mental ailments is all pervading. It stung one and all in the sense that all were impacted mentally regardless of whether infected or not.The mental epidemic far outpaced the pandemic proper. So, after the Amrit of Vaccination, mental nectar was most urgently needed. According to a 2019 ICMR study, one in seven persons suffered from mental disorders of varying severity in India. The pandemic has exacerbated mental ailments manifold. Hardly there is anyone who has not gone through mental torments. Depression and anxiety are the order of the day.

Talking to Uday India, K. Srinath Reddy, the President of the Public Health Foundation of India and also formerly Head of Cardiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), gave thumbs up to healthcare proposals in the budget. Dr Reddy says, ‘The initiative taken in the budget of 2022, to provide telehealth support to persons who need care and support for mental health challenges, is timely and laudable. Mental health disorders are increasing in their prevalence in India, across all age and social groups. In addition, mental health is disturbed episodically even when superimposed on other illness or when situationally challenged like exams, bullying or broken romance. Covid pandemic too heightened anxiety, depression, fear and a sense of alienation. Funding for 23 dedicated mental tele health centres will enable access to affordable care in a timely manner. Leadership for this, from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) and the International Institute for Information Technology (IIIT) will ensure quality of the services provided.’

Talking to Uday India, Dr Chandrakant S Pandav, former Professor and Head, Centre for Community Medicine (AIIMS, New Delhi), and Padma Shree recipient of 2021, said, ‘The Budget for Health for the first time in history has allocated substantial resources for mental health.’ The Iodine Man of India and WHO Public Health Champion, Dr Pandav described PM Modi as public health champion of the Millenium.

Talking to Uday India, Dr Nimesh Desai, Senior psychiatrist and Former  Director IHBAS ( Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences in Delhi)  said,  ‘The Epidemic has increased the psychological distress for many reasons in general population creating the need for counselling support for masses, and also more specific need for new cases of psychiatric disorders like Depression & Anxiety problems, as well as for more sustained services for those with pre-existing mental health problems. The new provision in the budget for Tele Mental Health services including Counselling is a good development in many ways….one, it will provide counselling services to the middle classes and the economically underprivileged classes…. two, it will further legitimize and encourage tele services for mental health thus reducing the treatment gap…. thirdly, hopefully it will bring more attention to mental health…and so 4, reduce the stigma….’.

Dr Pratima Murty, Director, NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences), the nodal agency for theimplementation of the proposal, rightly said that Tele Mental Health proposal in the budget could be a game changer for the situation of mental healthcare in India. She added-the study of experiences of some countries have shown that tele mental health support can lead to a lot of change and bring an improvement in outcomes.  This proposal had the potential to reach and benefit the most remote parts of the country.

Dr Naresh Trehan of Medanta fame and also Chairman of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) National Council on Healthcare, though also pointed some deficiency in the budget, was all praise for National Tele Mental Health program saying it will help people to deal with pandemic induced stress, trauma and other mental problems.

If Vaccine is the new name of Amrit, the age of ambrosia began long before the Union Budget 2022 were read in parliament. Vaccines proved real ‘Amrit’ for the people of India. The biggest free vaccination drive in the history of the world proved the biggest and most effective protector of people from pandemic here. The very successful drive has also earned encomiums from many countries. In the previous year’s Union Budget, massiveRs 35,000 crore allocation was made, sufficient to vaccinate a population of 100 crore for two doses.  So far, the centre has spent more than 28000 crores on COVID 19 vaccine procurement leaving more than Rs 10, 000 crore in the kitty for purchasing the vaccine in the current fiscal. Nearly 98 % of adult Indians have received at least one dose of the Covid 19 vaccines while more than 76 percent are fully vaccinated. The Union Budget 22 has proposed to allocate another Rs 5000 crores for Covid Vaccination.

While presenting budget Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman was spot on in saying that the pandemic had accentuated the mental health problems in people of all ages. So, announcement of the proposal to set up a National Tele-mental Health programme in India is the need of the hour. According to budget proposal, 23 tele mental health centres would be launched with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) as the nodal centre. It will facilitate better the access to quality mental health counselling and care services. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bangalore will provide tech support for the mental health program. Health experts said this proposal no doubt will bring mental health into the mainstream and increase people’s access to required infrastructure and support. The worry is the country might witness deluge of mentally ill people in times to come.

In the light of definition of health by the apex global health body WHO, The Union government has plugged a big gap in Indian healthcare by announcing National Tele Mental Health Program. The measures to fulfil the unmet need of mental health was long overdue even before pandemic struck but it was more or less on the back burner so far. After pandemic, experts say, the need has multiplied manifold.

In a nutshell, the health sector has been allocated Rs 86200.65 crore in the Union Budget, a hike of 16 percent over Rs 73,931 crore in 2021-22, with the government also announcing roll out of an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem.

Out of Rs 86200.65 crore, Rs 83,000 crore have been allocated to the Department of Health and Family Welfare while Rs 3200 crore have been allocated to the Department of Health Research, which played a key role in development of vaccines in India. The budget allocation for central sector schemes and projects has been increased from Rs 10,566 crore to Rs 15,163 crore.

Among these central sector schemes, the budget allocation for the Pardhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana has been increased from Rs 7,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore. The allocation for National Digital Health Mission – NHM has been increased from Rs 30 crore to Rs 200 crore.

For the National Health Mission, the budget allocation increased from Rs 36576 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 37,000 crore in 2022-23. The budget allocation for autonomous bodies increased from Rs 8566 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 10,022 crore in 2022-23.

Launching of National Health Registry also elicited praise with health experts saying it will significantly revolutionise the access to healthcare infrastructure. The proposal for digitally managed health ecosystem has also been regarded as a game changer. It has already passed muster in COVID 19 vaccinations and proved a runaway success. The roll-out of an open platform for the national health ecosystem will comprise an exhaustive list of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework and universal access to health facilities.Significantly, the national digital health mission has been allocated Rs 200 crore, compared to just Rs 30 crore allocated in the previous Budget.


By Dhananjay Kumar

Comments are closed here.