Strengthening the health sector
While the entire world is facing the deadly challenge of Covid-19, the bright side of this crisis is that worldwide focus of the governments has shifted to the health sector. The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of health sector all over the world and has brought down on knees even the developed nations of the world. In India, the sector is already fragile as post-independence it has remained the least focused one. The main reason is that India’s spending on health sector has been minimal. The country’s spending on health sector has been stuck at around 1% of GDP for close to 15 years. Though in 2004, the Government of India made a commitment to raise public spending on health to at least 2-3% of GDP over the next five years but the commitment remained just on papers and nothing substantive changed on the ground. In 2017 National Health Policy, another commitment of increasing public spending on health to 2.5% of GDP by 2025 was made. Four years down the line, there has not been any significant increase in health spending by the government. Last year May, Rs 20-lakh-crore stimulus package for health sector was announced by the central government that amounts to only 0.008% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The latest incentives were more focused on private health sector and during the pandemic. However, the data available suggests that contribution of private sector in fighting the pandemic has been negligible. As per reports, private hospitals, handled less than 10% of the critical load of COVID-19 patients, besides charging an exorbitant price for treating infected patients.
Amidst this disturbing scenario, the announcement made by the administration of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir recently regarding taking the health facilities to panchayat level is really a wonderful step that would give boost to the health sector. Equipping each panchayat with five bed facility including one oxygen bed would undoubtedly revolutionalise the health sector. It will not only be a great help to the people during pandemic alone but has every potential to prove a game changer in the longer run. Need is that the government seriously follows the project and ensures that the scheme is implemented on the ground without any lacunas. Instead of leaving the project exclusively to the bureaucrats for implementation, it is advisable that health experts, those trained in hospital management and local representatives are fully involved in the exercise. The concept of panchayats is to take the governance to the grass roots and UT government’s decision of taking health facilities to these grass roots will undoubtedly strengthen the health sector in Jammu and Kashmir. Proper implementation and accountability, however, will remain the key to the success of these projects. While these facilities during pandemic will help save peoples’ lives, in the longer run, these will lessen the burden on PHCs, sub-district hospitals, district hospitals and tertiary hospitals. The UT administration has already done great while fighting the pandemic and thankfully Jammu and Kashmir didn’t witness people dying for the lack of oxygen, hospital beds or medicines. This indicates that the UT government is serious in strengthening the health sector and people expect it to take the issue on war footing.