Breathing Life into Healthcare in India
The new National Health Policy is promising, but it needs stronger Centre-State coordination
The new National Health Policy (2017) released last week presents a clear vision of how India’s sluggish health system can be galvanised to deliver health and well-being to all by 2030, to meet the Sustainable Development Goal on health. The real challenge lies in its operational amplification and effective implementation which call for cementing consensus, catalysing commitment and channelling close coordination for steering Centre and the States together to deliver on this vision.
After a gestation period of over two years, that saw extensive public comment and sharp debate within the government, the policy has finally emerged as a well-crafted document that lays the path for Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Though the right to health proposed in the earlier draft has been disappointingly deleted, effective implementation of the various measures proposed in the NHP should place us on the path towards the realisation of that right. While espousing a strong public health approach and commitment to strengthening the public sector, the policy aims to draw upon the diverse systems of medicine and the different sectors of health-care providers that characterise our mixed health system, for providing much-needed health services across India.
A rise in spending:
The policy acknowledges the need for increasing the level of public financing for health, stating that the government must spend 2.5% of GDP by 2025. While this is sub-optimal and projects a farther date than public health advocates had hoped for, the promise to double public financing over next eight years is still welcome, given that government funding was virtually stagnant for several decades. However, Central budgets from now on must reflect a steady rise annually, to give credence to this promise. It also remains to be seen how States will conform to the recommendation that spending on health must rise above 8% of their budgets by 2020. Primary health care is rightly prioritised for two-thirds or more of all public funding. Free drugs, diagnostic and emergency services would be provided to all in public hospitals.
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