New Delhi: The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), the Union government’s flagship scheme to improve healthcare services in rural areas, is likely to be extended by three years to 2015, two senior health officials said.

NRHM, which completes five years of implementation on Monday, seeks to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, prevent disease, control population and ensure gender balance in rural India, according to the government website.

Photograph by Indranil Bhoumik / Mint; Graphic by Yogesh Kumar / Mint

It was launched in 2005 as a seven-year programme. But with many of its goals yet to be achieved, the government may extend it to 2015, the officials said.

“In 2012, the 12th Five-year Plan will start, so it (the extension) will depend on that. But it is likely that NRHM is extended, even though no decision has yet been taken," said Amarjeet Sinha, joint secretary (NRHM), ministry of health and family welfare.

When asked if the mission would be extended until 2015, health secretary K. Sujatha Rao said, “I suppose so."

One of the visions of NRHM was to raise public spending on healthcare from around 0.9% in 2004-05 of India’s gross domestic product to 2-3%. But this has not been achieved.

The National Health Accounts of the health ministry says it increased from 0.84% in 2004-05 to 1.1% in 2008-09, while the Economic Survey 2009-10 put the increase from 1.19% in 2004-05 to 1.45% in 2009-10.

“There are some goals that NRHM still has not achieved, which the Centre believes can be achieved in the extended time period. So, it is thinking of extending NRHM by three years before beginning the next phase," said the head of a non-governmental organization that works closely with the government under the programme, requesting anonymity.

He added that all plans were being drawn out with the 2015 deadline in mind.

Poor utilization of allocated funds and a shortage of medical professionals and administrators have hobbled the initiative.

Outlay for NRHM under the Union budget jumped from Rs6,730 crore in 2005-06 to Rs14,050 crore in 2009-10. But expenditure in 2009-10, until 31 January, was just Rs10,013.01 crore.

An audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India stressed the need to build public-private partnerships under NRHM to utilize the money better.

But the health ministry said, in a statement, that spending was poor at the local level initially due to the baggage of decades of “over-centralization".

“In a number of states, the utilization of untied funds at the local village, sub-centre, primary health centre, community health centre-level remains slow in the initial phase. Many institution heads at these levels had lost confidence to spend as per their felt needs on account of over-centralization over the last five decades," it stated.

But it added that the situation was improving, and a number of local-level institutions were making better use of funds.