The Union Cabinet this week approved the National Health Policy 2017 after having deferred it twice before. The last health policy was issued 15 years ago in 2002. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi puts it, “The National Health policy marks a historic moment in our endeavour to create a healthy India where everyone has access to quality healthcare.” Aiming to provide healthcare in an “assured manner” to all, the policy will strive to address current and emerging challenges arising from the ever-changing socio-economic, technological and epidemiological scenarios.
According to Health Minister J P Nadda, the policy advocates a progressively incremental assurance-based approach. It envisages providing larger package of assured comprehensive primary health care through the ‘Health and Wellness Centres’ and denotes important change from very selective to comprehensive primary health care package which includes care for major NCDs [non-communicable diseases], mental health, geriatric health care, palliative care and rehabilitative care services.
It aims to allocate major proportion of resources to primary care and intends to ensure availability of two beds per 1,000 population distributed in a manner to enable access within golden hour [the first hour after traumatic injury, when the victim is most likely to benefit from emergency treatment].
In addition, the policy proposes free drugs, free diagnostics and free emergency and essential health care services in all public hospitals in a bid to provide access and financial protection. It also envisages a three-dimensional integration of AYUSH systems encompassing cross referrals, co-location and integrative practices across systems of medicines. It also boasts of having an effective grievance redressal mechanism.
Impact on Gross Domestic Product
The policy proposes raising public health expenditure to 2.5 per cent of the GDP in a time-bound manner. According to the Health Minister, the 2.5 per cent of GDP spend target for this sector would be met by 2025.
Among key targets, the policy intends to increase life expectancy at birth from 67.5 to 70 by 2025 and reduce infant mortality rate to 28 by 2019. It also aims to reduce under five mortality to 23 by the year 2025. Besides, it intends to achieve the global 2020 HIV target.
The indication that the policy would adopt an “assurance-based approach” itself abandons a radical change proposed in the draft policy of 2015 — that of a National Health Rights Act aimed at making health a right. It replicates portions of the health section of the 2017 Budget speech given by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. It reiterates health spend targets set by the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) set up by the erstwhile Planning Commission for the 12th Five Year Plan (which ends on March 31, 2017), in addition to failing to make health a justiciable right in the way the Right to Education 2005 did for school education.
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