Amrit kaal is not tenable without Amrit Arogya, says expert on health budget

Holistic health without a significant investment rise is lip service, said Infection Control Academy of India President Ranga Reddy Burri.

BySumit Jha

Published Feb 01, 2023 | 8:25 PMUpdatedFeb 01, 2023 | 8:30 PM

Amrit kaal health budget

“Amrit kaal” is not tenable without “Amrit Arogya”, and holistic health without a significant rise in investments is just lip service, said Infection Control Academy of India President and honorary University of Hyderabad Professor Ranga Reddy Burri told South First.

The budget that Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented in Parliament on Wednesday, 1 February, saw the health outlay for the year 2023-24 increase 2.7 percent to ₹88,956 crore.

For 2022-23, the Union government had allocated a budget of ₹86,606 crore. The revised budget for 2022-23 till 1 February was ₹77,351 crore.

India is estimated to spend 2.1 percent of its GDP on health. “The road to Universal Health Coverage is through the allocation of upwards of 2.5 percent of the GDP on health without diluting it under various expense heads,” said Ranga Reddy.

He added that though the finance minister started with Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and the G20 presidency, he didn’t see anything allocated for One Health, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and pandemic preparedness.

“Against the backdrop of the continuing pandemic, there should have been a concrete direction on disaster preparedness, especially public health emergency preparedness,” he said.

The finance minister announced that 157 new nursing colleges would be established in co-location with the existing as many medical colleges established since 2014.

“New nursing colleges and medical colleges are a good step, but poor infrastructure will produce poor-quality healthcare workers,” said Ranga Reddy.

He pointed out that prevention was much cheaper than cure.

“I didn’t see much in the budget to improve public health infrastructure, nutrition, or prevention against the rising tide of non-communicable diseases, while the burden of communicable diseases was going unabated, increasing AMR,” he explained.

Pharma body welcomes the budget

The Union Budget’s thrust to encourage investments into research and development is a welcome step, a major pharmaceuticals export body said on Wednesday.

Udaya Bhaskar, the director general of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil), a body under the Ministry of Commerce, said in a statement that if India wanted to continue to be a major player then there is a need to spend more on research and innovation.

At the same time, the industry also needed to spend a reasonable amount on R&D, he added.

Sitharaman, in her budget speech, said facilities in select ICMR labs would be made available for research by public and private medical college faculty and private sector R&D teams for encouraging collaborative research and innovation.

“Encouraging R&D in pharma is a welcome step. Pharmexcil has been requesting the government for this for a long time. The future is for bio-pharmaceuticals and complex generics, and they need a lot of investments. The industry needs support,” he said.

Echoing the same view, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Chairman Satish Reddy said in a statement that the announcement about the new programme to promote research and innovation through centres of excellence, collaboration with the ICMR laboratories, and encouragement to investment in R&D were a much-anticipated support to innovation in pharmaceuticals.

Reddy said it was an inclusive budget that boosted critical areas such as education, agriculture, healthcare, environment, startups, skilling and others.

“The allocation of over 2 percent of the GDP to health, dedicated multi-disciplinary courses for medical devices, the mission to eliminate sickle-cell anaemia, and centres of excellence for artificial intelligence for cutting-edge solutions were the other highlights,” he said.

Stating that the budget set a positive tone for a healthier and more sustainable future for the country, Bharat Biotech International Ltd Founder and Executive Chairman Krishna Ella said in a statement that the encouragement of ICMR to partner with industry and medical colleges will help foster collaboration and drive innovation in the health sector.

“The provision of facilities for research and development and the encouragement for industry investment in R&D is a testament to the government’s recognition of the crucial role that innovation and technology will play in the country’s future,” Ella said.

With such a well-rounded and forward-looking approach, it was no wonder that India was poised to shine brightly on the global stage, he added.