India will spend an estimated Rs 2.23 lakh crore on public health expenditure for the financial year 2021-2022 - an increase of 137 per cent against budgeted expenditure from the previous year - Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Monday, as she presented the Union Budget.
"Investment on health infrastructure in this budget has increased substantially... Three areas - preventive health, curative health and well-being to be strengthened (and)... budget outlay for health and well-being is Rs 2,23 lakh crore in 2021-22 as against BE of Rs 94,452 crore," Ms Sitharaman said, responding to calls from medical and financial experts who have said that improving healthcare infrastructure and delivery could be key to reviving economic growth.
Last year India spent only an estimate 1.3 per cent of its GDP on health - the lowest of any major economy, according to news agency Reuters.
The massive increase comes as the nation looks to recover from the Covid pandemic, and includes spending of Rs 64,180 crore (over six years) under the Pradhan Mantri Aaatmanirbhar Swasthya scheme that aims to improve primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare in the country.
It also includes expenditure of Rs 35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccines, with further funds to be provided if required. Ms Sitharaman also said that two new vaccines would be launched.
The Finance Minister also said the National Centre of Disease Control would be strengthened with new branches and units, and support for more than 17,000 rural and 11,000 urban health centres.
Four new National Institutes of Virology will also be set up, she said, adding that critical healthcare facilities would be established in 62 districts.
Rs 2.87 lakh crore has been set aside for 4,378 urban bodies under the Jal Jivan Mission - a recognition of the need for clean water for drinking and other purposes at all times.
Increased health expenditure comes as the government looks for funds to vaccinate (at least) a significant percentage of its population against a virus evolving into more contagious strains.
The cost of vaccinating even half of India's population - at Rs 400 per person (the special rate agreed with the Serum Institute for the first 10 crore doses of its two-dose Covishield vaccine) had been estimated at around half of what was spent on all health expenditure last year.
Ms Sitharaman earlier said health and well-being would be one of the "six pillars of her budget".
With input from Reuters