India on the path to Universal Health Coverage

“Only Swasth Bharat can be a Samriddha Bharat. India cannot realize its demographic dividend without its citizens being healthy,” said Mr Arun Jaitley, the Union Finance Minister while announcing the budget for 2018-19.

‘Healthy India, Prosperous India’, has been well reflected in the 2018-19 budget.

Under the over-arching ‘Ayushman Bharat’ programme, aimed at addressing health holistically, in primary, secondary and tertiary care system, covering both prevention and health promotion, Mr Jaitley said, “The government is steadily but surely progressing towards the goal of Universal Health Coverage.”

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is a flagship programme of the WHO in the South- East Asia Region, and is now a global priority of WHO Director General Dr Tedros.

"WHO welcomes India's announcement of Rs 52,800 crore health budget and commends the schemes and initiatives planned to holistically address health. India's initiatives are well timed with WHO's initiative to strengthen efforts to make universal health coverage a reality," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South- East Asia Region.

The National Health Protection Scheme, a promising programme will cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries) providing coverage up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary hospitalization. The timely implementation of the scheme will be the cornerstone of a successful rollout.

The other major initiative is making Health and Wellness Centres as the foundation of India’s health system. These 1.5 lakh centres will bring the health care system closer to the homes of people, providing comprehensive care, including noncommunicable diseases and maternal and child health services. The government centres will provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services. Rs 1200 crores has been allocated for this flagship programme.

Welcoming the thrust on Health and Wellness Centres, Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India said, “The National Health Policy 2017 had prioritized primary healthcare as a principal component of health system strengthening. It is important that health services are available close to where the people are.”

Another timely move is that the government will provide nutritional support of Rs 500 per month to all TB patients for the duration of their treatment. The disease mainly affects the poor and malnourished

“It is fortuitous that the World Health Day theme for 2018 is Universal Health Coverage; the budget provides the right spur to accelerate on this path,” said Dr Bekedam.