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Budget 2022 analysis: Is this the booster dose we needed?

As far as the healthcare sector is concerned, the major highlights of the Union Budget 2022-23 included an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem and the launch of the National Tele Mental Health Programme. The approach to focus on public health and provide universal healthcare access is going to work by leaps and bounds.

Under Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem will be rolled out and it will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework, and universal access to health facilities. 

Digitisation will prove to be an aid but we also have to reduce the big gap in terms of the availability of health care professionals, drugs and diagnostics. The doctor to population ratio in India is below the WHO recommended ratio of 1:1000. It is high time that we need a national policy to create a pool of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who not only help in providing quality services but also reduce the burden on other co-workers.

The Finance Minister said, as the pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages, a ‘National Tele Mental Health Programme’ will be launched for better access to quality mental health counselling and care services. This will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence, with NIMHANS being the nodal centre and the International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIITB) providing technical support.

Budget allocation over mental health issues is indeed a big step that is estimated to pose a burden of $1.03 trillion on the economy. In order to address the mental health of patients, we first have to address the mental health of medical professionals. A severe shortage of trained health professionals ultimately puts pressure on the current lot.

A significant boost to medical research is another major area which will benefit in the covid times. The pandemic has exposed all the loopholes present in our healthcare system. In the last few years, we have collected enough data and evidence to start working in a direction to ameliorate the existing system. Despite all the uniques initiatives, if our health expenditure continues to linger at just 1.5% of the GDP, it might be a herculean task for us to persist longer amid the nth wave of the pandemic. 

The reactions from some of the industry leaders analysing the budget are as follows:

The Healthium Group welcomes a progressive and growth-oriented budget for FY 22-2023, under the continued mission of Atmanirbhar Bharat. We are delighted with the government’s initiative for encouraging sunrise sectors like Medtech with the promotion of thematic funds for blended finance. Increased investments in infrastructure will help improve the supply chain and aid customer access. Custom duty exemptions on medical devices and revision of tariff structures for manufacturing intermediates will strengthen India’s supply chains for a global hub in medical devices. The open platform for National Digital Health Ecosystem will benefit health providers and caregivers with universal access to healthcare facilities. The budget rightly calls out the need for an increased focus on mental health. The launch of the National Tele-Mental Health Service with the support of NIMHANS and IIIT Bangalore, will be widely appreciated by the essential services sector,” said Anish Bafna, CEO & MD, Healthium Medtech.

“Population Foundation of India welcomes the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s recognition of the multifold challenges that have emerged as a result of the pandemic. The government acknowledged the effect of the pandemic on mental health, and has announced the launch of a national tele-mental health programme, which will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres. The initiative to provide supplementary education in regional languages for classes I to XII through E-Vidya to make up for the loss of learning during the pandemic is a promising step. While we welcome the mention of the needs of women and young people in the Budget speech, it has not translated into adequate budgetary allocations for these groups. This is despite the fact that the differential impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups such as women was widely reported, including the gender divide in access to technology and disruption in women’s access to health services. Schemes mentioned in the speech, such as Saksham Anganwadi, already exist and have seen almost no increase in their budget over the previous financial year. If we take inflation into account, these budgets have declined. Public health does not seem to be a priority in the 2022-23 budget. Even the allocations for the National Programme of Mid-Day Meal in schools, now renamed as Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman, declined by 11 per cent from Rs 11,500 crores in 2021-22 to Rs 10,233.75 crores in 2022-23. The Finance Minister also did not mention any announcements around how the ongoing nutrition crisis will be tackled, despite the rising levels of anaemia in the country as indicated by the recently released fifth round of the National Family Health Survey,” said public health expert Poonam Muttreja, national NGO Population Foundation of India.

“We are very excited to see that the Government is intending to enhance the digital ecosystem in the country, more specifically in the healthcare and financial services industries. We applaud the Government’s initiative to roll out an Open Platform for National Digital Health Ecosystem. We sincerely hope and believe that this step will boost the digital health infrastructure in the country and will help thousands of doctors and millions of patients going forward. This is an encouraging step for health tech startups such as Navia who have been the crusaders of digital health and electronic health records,” said Mr Gaurav Gupta Co-Founder of Navia Life Care- a health tech startup.

“The pandemic has revealed a crisis in mental health, as well as the need for access to mental health professionals. The announcement of the National Tele Mental Health program will hopefully address a lot of these issues and provide people across the country with access to quality mental health care,” said Mr Abhishek Goel, CEO & Co-founder, CACTUS.

“The budget is forward-looking and growth-oriented. Digitalization is one of the major themes of this budget with announcements around the digital economy, digital health eco-system, e-passport, amongst others. The government has recognized technology as a major enabler for India’s economic growth and building one of the most advanced digital economies in the world. We also welcome this budget’s emphasis on strengthening talent capacity through skilling courses and the formation of a digital university to enable India to become a global hub for skilled talent. The government has also opened its doors to digital currency and thereby will boost the blockchain and crypto ecosystem in the country. This is a great step for further developing the talent pool for emerging technologies,” said Ms Ishani Behari, Chief Marketing Officer, Bridgen Tech.

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