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National Health Policy approved by cabinet

The government wants to provide “free drugs, free diagnostics and free emergency care” to people. This is in an effort to ease the financial burden of healthcare on the public – a mission which forms the cornerstone of the Union government’s new National Health Policy (NHP).Copyright: <a href=''>niyazz / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The policy – which was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, March 16th – echoes the healthcare policies of former U.S. President Barack Obama, in that it aims to provide cheaper insurance and medical care. Though the NHP differs in its aims in that it seeks to provide services and medication free of charge. This is with a view “to achieve universal access to good quality healthcare” on a national level, as opposed to a state-by-state basis. The policy has been in the works since 2015. The policy also focuses on preventing diseases and looks to address emerging diseases.

This is indeed an admirable goal; whether it is achievable is another question altogether. To reduce the financial strain on the population when paying for medical care, disproportionately affecting the poor, there needs to be funding. With this in mind, it is undeniably positive that the government has pledged to increase expenditures on public health – from 1.2 percent of GDP to 2.5 percent. This is still short of the global average of 5.4 percent, but nonetheless a step in the right direction.

The implication is that this will reinforce an already two tier system of public and private hospitals, with quality of care likely still remaining higher in private hospitals. Though as a prospect for those who currently cannot afford health care, the move will be welcomed.

Little is mentioned regarding the funding of the project, which, due to the grand scale of the provision of free services and drugs to a population so large, will be considerable. All that is noted is the policyadvocates financial and non-incentives for encouraging the private sector participation”.

In what form these incentives for the participation of the private sector take is unclear, though the private sector may contribute lower cost medications and services in return for perhaps tax subsidies. It is unlikely that this alone will provide the financial backing for the project to be a success. An increase to the health budget increasingly seems a necessity.

The NHP has received criticism regarding the targets it provides. Firstpost refers back to the National health policy of 2002, which sets a number of targets nearly identical to those set in 2015’s NHP. Most of these targets have not been reached, maternal mortality rate for example still lingers at 212 (per 100,000 births) despite an aim of reduction to 100 by 2010, this target of 100 is re-used in the 2015 NHP.

One limit that stands out, the healthcare budget. In 2002 it was aimed to reach 2 percent of the GDP by 2010, despite this it still lingers at 1.35 percent, notably lower than even surrounding south Asian nations with smaller economies. The 2015 NHP sets out an aim of 2.5 percent, ambitious considering the previous 2 percent aim was never reached, and perhaps was raised to a higher figure to compensate.

Most damning of all, the 2002 NHP states a number of its aims were drawn directly from a previous NHP set out in 1983, a number of the aims were never reached. The policy has potential, and is arguably vital in a country where health care factors such as antibiotic resistance are spiralling out of control. Without necessary funding however, it remains a policy seemingly recycled under a new administration for political point scoring.

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