Curative care gets more than preventive care

Prevention is the only way to reduce the cost of healthcare in India

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Monday 17 February 2014

In the interim budget presented on Monday, finance minister P Chidambaram announced an allocation of Rs 36,322 crore for health sector in 2014-15. The amount is much more than the Rs 7,248 crore the government spent about 10 years back.  He used this to substantiate that the UPA government has helped improve the health of Indians.

But, will this money help? Money is much needed in the fund-deprived health sector.
But when it comes to distributing the meagre amount of money available, preventive healthcare has been neglected. For years, public health experts have talked about the importance of preventive healthcare. This, they say, is the only way to reduce the cost of healthcare in the country as well as improve the well-being of its people.

Direct link with water and sanitation

Under the plan budget this year, the government has decided to give Rs 15,260 crore to the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation and Rs 33,725 crore to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

Dirty drinking water and lack of sanitation have often been cited as the main cause of ill health. For example, safe drinking water can not only prevent polio, a water-borne disease, but also protect a child or an adult from diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, jaundice, to name just a few. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), water-borne diseases account for an estimated 4.1 per cent of the total disability-adjusted life year (DALY) burden across the globe. DALY is a measure of overall disease burden and is expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability and early death. These also cause about 1.8 million human deaths annually. Around 88 per cent of this burden can be attributed to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Safe drinking water could also have saved many from chronic diseases, which are caused due to presence of toxins like arsenic and floride in water. Similarly, sanitation could have considerably brought down the cases of malnutrition. A research, published in September 2013 in journal PloS One, has found that 10 per cent increase in open defecation in India is associated with 0.7 per cent increase in stunting in 112 districts studied.

The finance minister, in his speech, said that many ministries were unable to spend the allocated plan budget between 2013 and 2014. At other times, this inability to use the fund would have resulted in a budget cut this year. But the minister decided to provide similar allocations this year to all ministries.

But this budget is an opportunity lost. It is time to change. At the very least, it is definitely not the time to rejoice. The budget still shows a lack of commitment towards health of people.

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