The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has witnessed a marginal one percent increase in its budgetary allocations of the Union Budget 2022 tabled by the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, 2022. The 2021 revised estimates showed that the government was likely to spend ₹86,000 crore in the financial year from its budgeted estimate of ₹73,931 crore. The budget estimates for 2022 for the health ministry stands at ₹86,200 crore.
The government has also decided to reduce the COVID-19 vaccination grants that it introduced in the last budget. While the government estimated granting ₹35,000 crore for the vaccination drive, in November it revised the estimates to ₹39,000 crore. However, for the upcoming year, the grant for vaccination is only ₹5,000 crore.
The health system has given close to 167 crore doses of vaccines to citizens across the country. According to the CoWin platform, over 4.82 crore children between the age of 15-17 have received one dose of the vaccine, over 90 crore people aged 18 and above have received one dose, close to 71 crore people are fully vaccinated, and about 1.32 crore health workers and people aged above 60 have taken the precautionary dose.
With India still reporting over one lakh COVID-19 cases, the government's reduced budget to vaccine allocation raises questions. India has given conditional market approval to Covishield and Covaxin, thus allowing them to be more easily available. There is also no allocation for the COVID-19 emergency scheme for financial year 2022-2023. These schemes have ensured that social security schemes are not stopped or inaccessible due to the pandemic across the country.
Even though the budget is introducing two new schemes, and marginally increasing allocations, the overall situation for the health sector, along with nutrition is grim, experts believe.
Poonam Muttreja, director of the Population Foundation of India expressed that public health does not seem to be a priority in the budget. "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," she said,
Health, Nutrition Budget Witness Marginal Increase
Muttreja added that the concept of Saksham Aanganwadis and Poshan 2.0 have already been around since the last budget and yet have not witnessed any great allocation in that direction. In the 2021 budget, the estimates were ₹20105 crore which were revised to ₹19999 crore. In the 2022 budget, the allocation stands at ₹20263 crore.
Similarly, the National Health Mission allocation for states which is the umbrella for most of the health programmes in the country has been budgeted at ₹37,000 crore, even though the actuals of 2020-21 show that the government gave over ₹37,080 crores.
Did Mental Health Get A Boost?
Sitharaman announced that te Centre was launching a National Tele-mental health programme with 23 universities providing regular counselling with NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) helming the project. The International Institute of Information Technology would act as the technology platform for this endeavour.
However, the National Mental Health Programme, one of the programmes under the National Health Mission has not seen any increase in its budgetary allocation. Its allocation stands at ₹40 crore like in 2021.
Creation of Digital Health Ecosystem
The government intends to create a complete national digital health ecosystem which will propel the National Digital Health Mission. The digital health endeavour which was framed way back in 2019 has now received an allocation of ₹200 crore.
With the advent of the creation of Unique Health Identity cards, the future steps in the creating the digital health ecosystem include creation of Health Professionals Registry, Facility Registry, and Digital Health Records. The government has the blueprint in place and is now working in this direction.
Jaljeevan And Swachh Bharat To Continue
Under the Ministry of Jalshakti, the Jaljeevan and Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan continue to receive allocations to promote tap water and using toilets. To promote the use of Har ghar nal ka jhal, the government allocated ₹60,000 crore to enable tap water drinking for 3.8 crore households.
Furthermore, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan that facilitates toilet building has been allocated ₹7192 crore rupees.