The free drugs scheme that made its debut in former prime minister’s Manmohan Singh’s Independence Day speech in 2012 and has since been hanging fire for want of funds finally appeared to be the cornerstone of Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget announcements on health. Jaitley announced a Free Drug Service and a Free Diagnosis Service on the road to the government’s commitment to “health for all”.
The overall allocations for health remained roughly where the UPA government left it in the Interim Budget presented earlier this year. At Rs 30,645 crore, the small Rs 500 crore jump is for setting up four more AIIMS-like institutions in Andhra Pradesh, West bengal, Vidarbha in Maharashtra and Poorvanchal in Uttar Pradesh. Twelve more government medical colleges will be set up and dental facilities will be provided at all hospitals. The Finance Minister’s Budget speech also mentioned with “great satisfaction” that all the six new AIIMS – in Jodhpur, Bhopal, Patna, Rishikesh, Bhubaneswar and Raipur – have become functional. The institutes were set up by the UPA regime.
An additional Rs 25,788 crore has been set aside for medical education. Plan outlay has also been made for strengthening of existing branches and establishment of 27 branches of the National Centers for Disease Control, strengthening of intersectoral coordination for prevention and control of zoonotic diseases (such as swine flu), health insurance and for tackling hepatitis. The plan outlay for the department of health research is Rs 726 crore and for the department of AIDS control is Rs 1,785 crore. Plan outlay for the department of Ayush is Rs 1,069 crore.
The central government will also provide assistance to strengthen the food and drug regulatory systems in states by creating new drug testing laboratories and strengthening the 31 existing laboratories. Fifteen model rural health research centres will be taken up for research on local health issues concerning rural population.