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Health spending to be 2.5% of GDP, says govt.

The Centre cleared the long-awaited National Health Policy 2017, which promises to increase public health spending to 2.5% of GDP in a time-bound manner and guarantees health care services to all Indian citizens, particularly the underprivileged, on Wednesday.

While Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda called the new policy a ‘milestone,’ rights based activists said the government had fallen short of making health a fundamental right- a section that was removed from the final draft passed on Wednesday.

The policy aims to move away from ‘sick care’ to ‘wellness,’ Mr. Nadda said in Parliament on Thursday. “The policy seeks to move away from sick-care to wellness, with a thrust on prevention and health promotion.

While the policy seeks to reorient and strengthen public health systems, it also looks afresh at strategic purchasing from the private sector and leveraging their strengths to achieve national health goals,” said Mr Nadda.

The government will pursue ambitious targets like reducing Under Five Mortality to 23 by 2025 and Maternal Mortality Ratio from current levels to 100 by 2020, and Infant Mortality Rate to 28 by 2019. It also seeks to reduce neo-natal mortality to 16 and stillbirth rate to “single digit” by 2025.

In September 2016, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to finalise the crucial health policy.guaranteeing “assured health services to all”.

The policy has come after a gap of 15 years to address the current and emerging challenges necessitated by the changing socio-economic, technological and epidemiological landscape

As a crucial component, the NHP2017 proposes raising public health expenditure to 2.5% of the GDP in a time bound manner. The Policy advocates a progressively incremental assurance-based approach but activists maintain that without a legal consequence, guaranteeing health is an empty assurance. “Previous drafts of this policy proposed to make this a fundamental rights, failure to provide health would have legal consequences. Removing that section just makes this an empty promise. Such assurances have been made umpteen times by different governments since 1980s. Further, while the policy promises to increase health spending to 2.5% of the GDP, it does not square up with the past three budgets of this government. Money for all critical programs has either stagnated or gone down in real terms,” said Dr Amit Sengupta, Convenor of the India Chapter of People’s Health Movement, a non-governmental organization advocating universal health care.