The Centre cleared the long-awaited National Health Policy 2017, which promises to increase public health spending to 2.5% of GDP in a time-bound manner and guarantees health care services to all Indian citizens, particularly the underprivileged, on Wednesday.
While Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda called the new policy a ‘milestone,’ rights- based activists said the government had fallen short of making health a fundamental right, a section that was removed from the final draft passed on Wednesday.
The policy aims to move away from ‘sick care’ to ‘wellness,’ Mr. Nadda said in Parliament on Thursday. “The policy seeks to move away from sick-care to wellness, with a thrust on prevention and health promotion. While the policy seeks to reorient and strengthen public health systems, it also looks afresh at strategic purchasing from the private sector and leveraging their strengths to achieve national health goals,” said Mr Nadda.
The government will pursue ambitious targets like reducing Under-Five Mortality to 23 by 2025 and Maternal Mortality Ratio from current levels to 100 by 2020, and Infant Mortality Rate to 28 by 2019. It also seeks to reduce neonatal mortality to 16 and stillbirth rate to “single digit” by 2025.
In September 2016, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to finalise the crucial health policy.
The policy advocates a progressively incremental assurance-based approach to health care provision. Previous drafts proposed to make this a fundamental right, and failure to provide health would have legal consequences. Removing that makes this it empty promise, activists said. “The promise on health spending does not square up with the past budgets of this government. Money for critical programs has stagnated or gone down in real terms,” said Dr. Amit Sengupta, Convenor of the India Chapter of People’s Health Movement, an NGO.