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On May 1 when the Cabinet finally green-lighted the launch of the National Urban Health Mission we d wondered with some trepidation whether this was another false start or the beginning of the much-touted program which would run on the lines of the NRHM? It turns out that UPA s ace-in-the-pocket might not be anything more than pre-poll eye wash and may actually hurt the NRHM and other health services provided in the country.
The new venture might hamper the rural health program and also hinder other plans to fight specified diseases. During the budget session this year, the Finance Minister had said that the NUHM and the NRHM would be clubbed under a common program called the National Health Mission. However, experts believe that re-christening the scheme won t really help it take off. The 12th Five Year Plan had allocated Rs 16,955 crore to the scheme which means it should have approximately Rs 3,300 crore per year. However, a media report by TOI suggests that unified mission was cleared by the Cabinet on the assurance that the funds for the urban sub-mission will be cobbled together from other sources. The NUHM is set to cover approximately 7.75 crore people in 779 cities but that proposal is set to be postponed to the next fiscal, which won t really give the UPA any pre-poll bragging rights.
If on the other hand the health ministry uses NRHM funds, the former will be badly hit considering it has only got a 2.5% increase from last year. This means that other targets under the government s Health for All axiom is going to be missed including the move to provide free essential drugs and free diagnostic testing at government hospitals a project that would need Rs 2000 crore annually.
Also the plan to strengthen the capacity of the district hospitals would be hit as would the universal healthcare system that has been discussed for a long, long time and sources suggest that all of them will be put off till the next fiscal. Experts are wary that the untenable funds will make it hard for the government to reach the aforementioned targets which will lead to an outcry later on.
While large funds had been promised for public health and education, there was a lot of controversy with Planning Commission s suggestions which many believed would corporatise healthcare and hand the healthcare baton to the private sector. Though the differences were resolved with creation of the National Health Mission, experts are worried that the current year s budget is simply inadequate for the NUHM to take off.
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