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Budget 2022: Mental Health And National Digital Health Ecosystem Get Attention, But Only 0.23% Boost In Health Spends

Budget 2022 has a provision for integrated architecture which includes – Mission Shakti, Mission Vatsalya, and Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0

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Budget 2022: Mental Health And National Digital Health Ecosystem Get Attention, But Only 0.23% Boost In Health Spends

New Delhi: On February 1, 2022, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget for the financial year 2022-23. It was FM Sitharaman’s fourth budget presentation in a row and the nation’s second paperless Union Budget. The Finance Minister began her budget presentation by expressing empathy towards people who had to bear the adverse health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. FM Sitharaman also spoke about the third COVID wave in India and said,

We are in the midst of an Omicron wave with high incidence but milder symptoms. Further, the speed and coverage of our vaccination campaign have helped greatly. With an accelerated improvement of the health infrastructure in the past year, we are in a strong position to withstand challenges.

Also Read: Union Budget 2022 Highlights: Key Announcements Made By FM Nirmala Sitharaman For A Swachh And Swasth India

After a huge focus on health in last year’s budget with the announcement of Pradhan Mantri Atma Nirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, a new central healthcare scheme to strengthen the country’s healthcare infrastructure over the next six years, this year the FM didn’t make in big bang announcements in the public health sphere. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has received an allocation of Rs. 86,200.65 crore (Budget estimate – BE) for 2022-23 which is a mere 0.23 per cent higher than the revised estimate of Rs. 86,000.65 crore in 2021-22.

Here are some key announcements made by the Finance Minister when it comes to public health and well-being.

National Digital Health Ecosystem

In her budget speech, FM Sitharaman announced the roll-out of an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem. Explaining the components of the national digital health ecosystem, in brief, FM Sitharaman said,

It will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework and universal access to health facilities.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya took to micro-blogging site Twitter to thank the Finance Minister for the announcement. Lauding the initiative, Mr Mandaviya also said, “Leveraging the power of technology, the National Digital Health Ecosystem will significantly enhance ‘Ease of Living’ for citizens and create a healthier India.”

Lauding the government’s move, Dr Mona Duggal, Assistant Professor, School of Public Health at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh said,

National Digital Health Mission Registries on health personnel will help provide an assessment of skilled workforce in different regions. These are baby-steps but as a robust database comes into force, it will have a long term impact on the strengthening of health systems and equity.

Also Read: PM Modi Launches Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, Digital Health ID For All

National Tele-Mental Health Programme

In her budget speech, FM Sitharaman also took cognizance of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of people. She said,

The pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages. To better the access to quality mental health counselling and care services, a National Tele-Mental Health Programme will be launched. This will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHAS) being the nodal centre and the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Bangalore providing technology support.

Giving out more details about the National Tele-Mental Health Programme, Mr Mandaviya shared key elements. The government aims to transform access to mental healthcare nationwide by:

– Providing counselling and care using standard, evidence-based, culturally appropriate tools;
– Enhance access to quality, standardised and free 24×7 mental health services to people;
– Help to connect with various mental health care services, the health and wellness centres under Ayushman Bharat as well as with the e-Sanjeevani system

Also Read: Expert Blog: Future Of Healthcare Information Technology: New Innovations And Trends

Under Tertiary Care Programmes, National Mental Health Programme has been allocated a budget of Rs. 40 crore same as the BE for the previous financial year which was later revised to a 27.5 per cent lower spend of Rs. 29 crore. Along with this, Rs. 560 crore have been allocated to NIMHANS compared to Rs. 500.44 crore allocated in 2021-22 which was later revised to Rs. 528.49 crore. Every year budget is allocated to NIMHANS for providing services, training and research functions in the field of mental health and neurosciences.

Rachana Parikh, Senior Program Officer, Mental Health, PATH – South Asia said,

There is an urgent need for increased allocation towards the mental health sector, which received only one per cent of the overall spending on health. The allocation towards National Mental Health Program has to be further enhanced since this is critical in ensuring access to mental health in rural and hard to reach areas.

The government’s acknowledgement of a much-neglected area of mental health received a positive response from healthcare experts. In an interview with NDTV, Dr Sangeeta Reddy, Joint MD, Apollo Hospitals called to wait for the implementation of all the good things that are there in the budget.

Talking to the Banega Swasth India team, Dr Samir Parikh, Director of the Fortis National Mental Health Program at Fortis Healthcare, said tele-mental health was the solution for mental health in India considering the huge shortage of experts. He said,

The digital divide is not as much as we think. An individual can consult a doctor even through WhatsApp video calls and purchase medicines locally. Telemedicine makes it affordable and accessible for people requiring chronic care. Patient and caregiver need not take unpaid off from work, travel to cities for consultation. The number of patients I have seen from villages in the last year has increased drastically. Tele-mental health is going to be one of the key aspects of change.

Also Read: Science And Health: What Is Telemedicine And Is India Ready For It?

Integrated Architecture: Mission Shakti, Mission Vatsalya, And Saksham Anganwadi And Poshan 2.0

FM Sitharaman spoke about the central government’s focus on women and women-led development. She said,

Our government has comprehensively revamped the schemes of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Accordingly, three schemes namely Mission Shakti, Mission VATSALYA, and Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 were launched recently to provide integrated benefits to women and children.

Further elaborating on the concept of Saksham Anganwadis, FM Sitharaman, said,

They are a new generation Anganwadis that have better infrastructure and audio visual aids, powered by clean energy and providing an improved environment for early childhood development. Two lakh Anganwadis will be upgraded under the scheme.

The budget allocated to all three schemes has been increased in comparison to 2021-22. Mission Shakti for the protection and empowerment of women covers various schemes like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, National Creche Scheme, among others. Together they have got a budget of Rs. 3,184.11 crore, an increase of 50.11 per cent from the revised estimate (2021-22) of Rs. 2,121.09 crore.

Also Read: Not Just Global Hunger Index, NFHS-5 Also Raises Concern On India’s Nutrition Status

Mission VATSALYA covering child protection and welfare services has been allocated Rs. 1,472.17 crore, an increase of 77.44 per cent from the previous year’s revised estimate of Rs. 829.65 crore.

However, Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 (covering umbrella Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme – Anganwadi Services, POSHAN Abhiyan and Scheme for Adolescent Girls) has received Rs. 20,263.07 crore, a meagre 1.31 per cent increase from the revised estimate of Rs. 19,999.55 crore.

Sharing her thoughts on the budget allocation, Avani Kapur, Fellow, Centre for Policy Research and Director, Accountability Initiative said,

Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 was announced in the last budget and it clubbed a number of existing sub-schemes. But even now the exact objectives aren’t clear for the scheme. What’s even more surprising is that this year’s allocations are basically only 1 per cent higher than last year (both comparing it with REs or BEs) – which is basically no real increase. In fact, the current allocations for this new scheme are over 4,000 crore less than the sum of the allocations of the earlier schemes.

Mini Varghese, Country Director, Nutrition International, India welcomed the idea of Saksham Anganwadi but she believes that to ensure effective utilisation of these resources, Anganwadi workers and helpers need to be capacitated. She said,

Anganwadi workers supported by other frontliners including the ASHAs and ANMs have proven to be extremely efficient in delivering health and nutrition services to every vulnerable household, especially in the current pandemic times. We need to look at building this resourceful pool of front-end workers and investing in their training and skill-building. Infrastructure alone is not sufficient; it needs to be backed with quality delivery of services, improvement in take-home ration, follow-up and management of moderate acute malnutrition.

Also Read: Experts’ View On Mission POSHAN 2.0 Announced By Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman To Improve Nutritional Outcomes

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