It is said that one of the reasons for former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S R Reddy’s successive electoral wins was his zeal to promote public health scheme Arogyashree, besides the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).
This earned him accolades across party lines though public health issues including health insurance are not key talking points during elections unlike in countries like US and UK.
In a bid to push public health into election manifestos, British Medical Journal (BMJ), India, has invited inputs from doctors and other stakeholders on making health issues a priority in the Lok Sabha elections.
The journal is commissioning write-ups from experts to bring public health to the electoral forefront. In an unrelated development, a group of healthcare professionals, many of them members of the expert group that drew up the Planning Commission report on Universal Health Care (UHC) is planning to write to political parties asking them about their vision on healthcare for all.
BMJ says the idea of inviting suggestions from experts is to start a trend of health becoming an election issue.
Inviting comments from health professionals and drawing examples from the west about how ‘Obamacare’ was an election issue in US and no political party in UK could afford to ignore healthcare, Richard Hurley, BMJ India comment editor, wrote: “Current government spending on health ranks India at a lowly 171th place out of 175 countries, at just 1% of GDP in 2011. Indeed, health did not feature at all in the finance minister’s agenda to make India the world’s third largest economy in the interim budget he just announced. But in a country where two thirds of citizens, some 800 million people, must meet all healthcare expenses out of their pocket, leading to widespread indebtedness, why is neither main party using universal health coverage to advance its campaign – that is some form of insurance for all citizens.”
India’s editor of the journal, Dr Anita Jain, states that there has been a good response to the article published three weeks ago and most contributors aired their frustration about health being a non-issue in elections in India. “We are planning to commission opinion pieces from experts associated with organisations like the Public Health Foundation of India and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan to ensure crucial health issues like access to care and medicines, clinical trials, and concerns of health researchers make it to the list of political priorities,” she said.
Meanwhile, health activists are trying to engage parties on their public health commitments. Members of the high level group whose UHC report remains a dream on paper, are said to be forming a pressure group to quiz parties on their views and vision for UHC.