The healthcare sector has its eyes on Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who will unveil the annual accounts in Parliament on February 1.
With the general elections to follow soon, experts from the health industry have weighed in on what can be expected from the interim budget even as the country is enveloped in an increased incidence of viral infections, fungal deaths, the antimicrobial resistance pandemic, and sickle cell disease.
The healthcare sector, a major component of the nation's well-being, has several changes that could improve its infrastructure, distribution, evaluate and improve its research and development.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government had allocated Rs 89,155 crore, a 12.6% increase from the Union Budget 2023-24.
Dr Azad Moopen, Founder Chairman, Aster DM Healthcare, advocated for better healthcare infrastructure and more hospitals to be set up in the country.
"There is a need to have more hospitals and healthcare facilities in rural and suburban areas to make affordable healthcare accessible for 500 million people. While the last budget announced the establishment of nursing colleges alongside medical colleges, there is an urgent need for comprehensive reform of medical education," said Dr Azad Moopen.
Emphasising digital health records, Dr Harshit Jain, Founder & Global CEO, Doceree, said, “More is needed to make significant steps to revamp the healthcare infrastructure, placing a strong emphasis on digital health records. There need to be advancements in treatment outcomes as well.”
Mental health, an important aspect of the health sector, Dr Jyoti Kapoor, Founder-Director, Manasthali, urged a well-rounded budget that includes mental health awareness programs, counselling and outpatient care.
“The acceptance of mental health as a necessary aspect of health still needs to be highlighted through awareness and educational programs for the masses. There should be a substantial increase in funding for mental health services, including awareness programs, outpatient care, counselling, and community-based programs,” said Dr Jyoti Kapoor.
She pointed out that since the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the effectiveness and accessibility of telehealth services, allocating resources to expand and improve its infrastructure for mental health consultations will enhance access in remote areas.
Yashna Garg, Chief Medical Officer of Zeon Lifesciences Ltd, talked about another critical area which is medical research and development.
“There should be a special focus on integrating AI (artificial intelligence) and other technological innovations in healthcare. Such advancements could place India at the forefront of medical innovation,” said Yashna Garg.
Vikram Thaploo, CEO, Telehealth, Apollo Hospitals Enterprises Limited, spoke about the budget’s role in telemedicine.
Allocating resources for training and reskilling can optimise the economic impact of telemedicine, which can bolster innovation and employment opportunities, he added.
Rajvardhan Singh, OSD Chairman, Noida International Institute of Medical Sciences and Hospital, Noida International University, urged for an increase of 13% for the health sector with a focus on eliminating diseases by 2027.
“The development of a healthy and inclusive healthcare system depends in large part on the alternative healthcare sectors. The alternative medicine paradigm highlights the possibility of affordable preventative measures that empower people and improve community well-being,” said Rajvardhan Singh.
Advocating initiatives to boost evidence-based Ayurveda in the country, Prashanth Vastred, the Founder and Managing Director of Guduchi Ayurveda, said, “The government should consider implementing a scheme that reimburses 90% of expenditures on proprietary Ayurvedic medicine research. This financial support will intensify its research endeavours and encourage credibility."