Interim Budget 2024–25: Will the Government Honour That Health Is Wealth?

Health is essentially at the core of sustainable development and the same has been recognised all over the globe. With the Interim Budget to be announced soon, the Indian healthcare sector waits in anticipation, considering the sheer size of the population and the sub-par facilities available to the majority.

In the past, this sector has been a priority for the government, with a steady increase in budgetary allocations every year.

The Union Budget for 2023-24 allocated Rs 89,155 crore to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, nearly a 3.4 per cent increase in comparison to Rs 86,200 crore in the Financial Year (FY) 2022-23. This is driven by increased allocation to the Central expenditure to continue building sustainable healthcare infrastructure and ensure Health system preparedness to handle growing needs.

So, here are some of the expectations from the budget pertaining to the healthcare space –

Aligning Budgeting Allocation With SDGs

The four largest economies of the world, on an average spend close to 12 to 16 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare as per the OECD Health Statistice 2023.

With 2030 soon approaching, it’s important to stand true to the bold commitment that The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make, to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other communicable diseases by 2030, to achieve universal health coverage, and provide access to safe and affordable medicines and vaccines for world over and in India – home to almost one-fifth of the world’s population with the most diverse needs and expectations.

We all need to pull up our socks and align our budgetary allocation with the SDGs. More money needs to be pumped in to tackle the magnitude of healthcare challenges that India faces.  

Enhanced Investment towards ‘One Health’

As defined by the World Health Organization, ‘One Health’ is based on the idea that human, animal, and environmental health are interdependent, meaning that human health cannot exist without “health” in the ecosystems that support it.

Animals happen to be the vector or carriers for a plethora of infectious diseases.

In recent decades, five out of the six public health emergencies of international concern declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) were of animal origin, and at least 75 per cent of newly emerging infectious diseases have animal origins, and it is believed that 60 per cent of infectious diseases that affect humans now are zoonotic.

The idea behind investing sufficiently in Animal Health is to reduce the risk that a pathogen will emerge from animals (both domesticated and wildlife) to be transmitted into the human population, potentially endangering the health, nutritional security, and livelihoods of vulnerable groups. 

As estimated in 2022, according to the World Bank, the expected benefit of One Health to the global community was approximately at least USD 37 billion per year as per WHO. The estimated annual need for expenditure on prevention is less than 10 per cent of these benefits.  

In the past, an allocation of 72 crores was made towards strengthening the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) branches to augment disease surveillance of zoonotic diseases. The Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC) in its 21st meeting, approved setting up a National One Health Mission with a cross-ministerial effort that will serve to coordinate, support, and integrate all the existing One Health activities in the country and fill gaps where it is appropriate. 

The need of the hour is to commit more funds towards the critical enabling activities of the ‘One Health Mission’ which involves work towards targeted Research and Development, data and database integration, streamlining regulatory approval processes, and building a governance model around it.

The focus area should be around designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation, and research towards various zoonotic diseases which have the potential to jump barriers and cause infections in humans. Budgetary allocations should also be made towards enhancing and integrating disease surveillance and early warning systems, upgrading and expanding the laboratory network; improving interoperable data systems; and building capacity for data analytics for risk analysis and risk communication.  

The road to achieving and implementing One Health may not be the easiest due to the requirement of major structural changes to integrate the human, animal, and environmental health fields and support multi-sectoral communication, collaboration, coordination, and capacity strengthening.

However, a structured analysis of the critical gaps in one health implementation and how they can be narrowed might help.  

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