This is the last full budget of Narendra Modi Government before the general elections to Lok Sabha due next year. In a major step towards welfare of common man, the government has shown its full commitment to health care of socially and economically vulnerable section of the society. A healthy nation is a strong nation. If people are not healthy how a nation can be strong? With this point in view, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has under a new scheme of “Ayushman Bharat” decided to provide free health care and cost of hospitalisation to 10 crore families. Those needing medical treatment would be given up to Rs 5 lakhs cashless benefit in hospital. This year budget has allocation of Rs 2 thousand crores which will be available from the beginning of financial year 2018-19 in April next.
New Medical Colleges
With special health care scheme, the government has also decided to open 24 new Medical Colleges. With increasing population, the country does not have sufficient number of doctors. With new medical colleges we will have more doctors to take care of citizens’ health. The steps on health front are highly commendable.
The challenge before the government, however, will be to ensure transparency in admission into new colleges and to get qualified faculty of medical science in the new colleges. Unfortunately, in the past there has been gross irregularities and corruption in admission to Medical Colleges in some States. As a result of which, a large number of students who could have become good doctors were deprived of opportunity to study medical science. As a matter of fact, 58 per cent of seats for MBBS course are in 6 States with 31 per cent of the country’s population. Whereas eight States with 46 per cent population have only 21 per cent of MBBS seats. This indicates to imbalance in medical education in the country.
Generally, lack of good health is attributed to poverty. For instance Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are two states where proportion of malnutrition amongst children is highest. Both the States are backward with large population of tribal. Per capita expenditure on health care in many States in India is lower than some poor countries of the world. Average per capita health care expenditure in India is lowest among BRICS nations comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Looking back, at the time of Independence in 1947, total number of medical colleges in the country was 23. By now the number of medical colleges has reached little over 400. But even this number is not sufficient given the size of the population of the country. I have been informed by experts of medical education that we need at least 10 to 15 new medical colleges every year given the size of the population then only we shall be able to meet the required number of doctors vis a vis our population. One good thing that Jaitley has done in his budget is to provide Rs 500 per month to TB patient who is not able to meet the cost of treatment.
Cheaper Medicines for All
Narendra Modi Government has promised to provide cheaper medicines to all. This year budget indicates that the government is moving towards the direction to fulfil its promise of affordable medicines to citizens. Many Members of Parliament from Opposition benches congratulated me after presentation of the budget for the government decision to provide health care and treatment to weaker sections of the society. Under the new health insurance policy some 50 crores of people would get the benefit of treatment up to Rs 5 lakhs.
Emphasis on Research
It is obvious that with opening of 24 new medical colleges, medical research would get impetus. Research work in medical is very expensive. It should be taken note of the fact that in our country medical research has not been up to the mark. Government should involve pharmaceutical companies that make profit running into thousands of crores in the field of medical research. The Pharmaceutical companies should be asked to collaborate with medical colleges in the field of research work on medical science.
I fail to understand why previous governments did not pay any attention to health care in the past. Facilities in government hospitals are far less than those available in private hospitals.
In government hospital dispensaries there is always shortage of medicines and for most of the time doctors are not available. Patients and their attendants who come to big government hospitals run from pillar to post to get admission and get their patients treated.
R K Sinha
(The writer is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha)