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Updated: March 24, 2010 01:57 IST

Azad for more public funding in healthcare

Special Correspondent
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Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad
The Hindu Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has advocated an increase in public sector investment in the health sector as the majority of the people could not afford private health care.

Besides, the presence of the private sector in rural areas, northern States, hilly States and north-eastern States was negligible and hence rural areas had to increasingly depend on public health services, Mr. Azad said here on Tuesday at a Planning Commission conference ‘Building Infrastructure: Opportunities and Challenges.'

“The poor and the lower middle class strata of our society require state intervention to provide them protection against the high cost of medical care. In the absence of such an option, it is seen that private health care costs have had a devastating impact on household incomes,” he said.

He said that in India, it was neither advisable nor feasible to have a private sector-led health system like in the U.S. “There is need to have both to cater to the different income segments of our society.”

“With almost one-third of the population still below the poverty line, high levels of illiteracy and malnutrition, the role of the public sector is not only relevant but essential for providing medical treatment to the poor,” the Minister said.

However, recognising the efficiency of the private sector, ancillary services such as laundry, security, diet, sanitation, waste disposal could be provided by the private sector in public hospitals, he said.

“Accordingly, we are working on a number of models under which diagnostics such as laboratory services, X-ray, CT and MRI and other high-end equipment/services can be outsourced,” he said.

“The connection between a healthy and wealthy nation, which was recognised by western countries several decades ago, was unfortunately overlooked in our development framework, as we believed that increasing incomes of households was sufficient enough to improve the quality of life. It is only now that we are beginning to recognise that economic growth is only possible when it is founded on a healthy and literate population,” he pointed out.

On the initiatives being taken by the government to strengthen the healthcare system, Mr. Azad said over Rs.1,300 crore was being invested in government medical colleges for increasing medical seats and Rs.1,200 crore for establishing 250 nursing schools in the country in the same underserved areas.

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