Healing ailing health sector

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While the Lieutenant Governor administration is trying to do its best to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and has, by and large, performed well, the health sector here faces some chronic issues that are to be tackled with a long-term plan. Presently it is appreciable that the administration has managed to ensure supply of medical oxygen, medicines and availability of beds and thus has managed to deal with the crisis and saved lives. Though like other parts of the country Jammu and Kashmir too witnessed alarming spike in the positive cases and subsequent deaths, the situation was handled in a better manner and thus people didn’t suffer much. However, the issues facing health sector in Jammu and Kashmir are decades old and though the administration has done well during the pandemic crisis, it will have to look for long-term measures to address all the issues confronting the sector.

Pandemic should serve as an eye opener for the government and should wake up the policy makers from the slumber. The Covid-19 has exposed the weaknesses within our health systems and need is to take steps to correct all the wrongs. The biggest issue confronting the sector is its budgetary allocation. This sector, which should have been the priority for the governments that be, was never prioritized and this reality gets fully exposed while comparing the budgetary allocations of health sector with that of internal security. The public expenditure on health is far less than the spending on internal security. Jammu and Kashmir spends nearly Rs 27 crores a day on maintaining “peace” (internal security) while as its daily expenditure on healthcare is only Rs 17 crores. The erstwhile state in 2017-18 had an estimated budgetary expenditure of Rs 76335 crore. Its administrative and developmental outlay on health sector was Rs 3509 crores while as the allocation for Home department was Rs 6043 crores.  The estimated outlay for health in 2018-19 was Rs 3528 crore and for Home it was Rs 5753 crore. In the subsequent fiscal, expenditure for health was Rs 4448 crore and for Home it was Rs 7797 crore. Similarly its projected spending on health was Rs 6169 crore and Rs 9215 crores for Home in 2020 -21.  Even during the corona infested current fiscal, the monetary resource allocation gap is again very wide between the two. Health sector has an allocation of Rs 7066 crore while as for the Home department it is Rs 10248 crore.

Now is the time to revisit the health policy. Though the pandemic is the worst disaster facing the public here but it has also come as a blessing as it has exposed the vulnerabilities of the health sector. The pandemic should be viewed as a wakeup call and the administration should revisit its approach towards health sector and also realign the resources with the demands in the healthcare sector.  Time has come that the sector gets the attention and focus that it deserves and the government need to be more liberal when it comes to allocation of the funds for the health and well being of its citizenry.

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