Home / Politics / Policy /  A reality check for healthcare

New Delhi: In the run-up to the elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised better access to healthcare, free medicines and lower costs. But the reality is very different. Two significant developments in the past year—the slashing of the budget allocation for health and the government’s decision to promote and invest heavily in traditional medicine while cutting expenditure on critical health programmes—are a clear pointer to the government’s priorities.

Since the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government came to power, there has been a 20% cut in the budget for the National Health Mission and a 10% cut in the allocation for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme. The worst affected is the National AIDS Control Programme, now in its fourth phase of implementation. The AIDS programme will receive 300 crore less funds next year. The government has “not just belied its promises, it has done precisely the opposite", writes Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal.

“The message coming from the government is that there is a total freeze on any movement in the health sector. Coupled with the budget cuts, it has displayed a lack of commitment. More than the lack of budgetary allocation, it is the complete lack of vision and direction from the government that is more worrying," said Amit Sengupta, convenor of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a coalition of organizations working for health rights.

Meanwhile, the decision to set up an Ayush ministry, dedicated to the promotion of traditional Indian medicine (ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy) received a lot of flak from the medical community, especially since the move coincided with the government cutting the budgetary support for the health ministry.

The voices may be disparate, but the chorus across the healthcare sector reflects concern about budget cuts and indifference. Maybe NDA’s second year will see the fog clear.

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