India plans to raise health spending by 11pc in new budget

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Alcohol poisoning patients receive medical treatment at the Diamond Harbour sub-divisional hospital in Diamond Harbour, after dozens died and many injured drinking boot-leg liquor in several villages south of Kolkata, on December 15, 2011. A batch of home-brewed liquor thought to have been laced with the highly toxic chemical methanol has killed 131 people in eastern India, an official told AFP. Many of them were labourers and rickshaw drivers too poor to afford branded alcohol who stopped for a drink at illegal bars or bought from bootleggers after work on Tuesday. AFP PHOTO/Dibyangshu SARKAR (Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

 

India is poised to raise its public health spending by 11 per cent in the annual budget next month, after rejecting the health minister’s demand for a much bigger increase to ramp up disease control, according to government sources and documents.

Health Minister JP Nadda sought a “bare minimum” budget of nearly $10 billion for 2018-19 – 33 per cent higher than last year – in a letter to the finance minister on Nov 26, which Reuters has reviewed.

Nadda argued the funds were needed for expanding vaccination coverage and free drugs distribution, and also to ward off a growing threat of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, which killed 6 million people in India in 2016.

His request was not approved: the health budget is expected to rise by 11 per cent to $8.2 billion, three government officials told Reuters. They declined to be named or be identified further as the discussions were confidential.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government last year set a target of raising annual health spending to 2.5 per cent of India’s GDP by 2025, from 1.15 per cent now – one of the lowest proportions in the world.

The health budget this year will put that pledge at risk.

“What’s the point of having a (2025) GDP target? With this funding, it still looks like a herculean task,” said one of the officials interviewed.

The finance ministry declined comment, while the health ministry did not respond to requests seeking comment. The budget for the financial year ending March 2019 will be presented on Feb 1.

Shamika Ravi, a member of Modi’s economic advisory council, said she wasn’t privy to the final budget numbers, but described a $8.2 billion annual health budget as “not sufficient”.

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“If we underspend on health, it will impact India’s overall GDP by lowering productivity in the long term,” said Ravi, who is also a research director at Brookings India.

Ravi however said she would continue to advise the government to allocate more funds for healthcare to achieve its 2025 GDP target.