Budget lacks focus on mental health, rising cost of medical devices: Experts

February 1, 2024
The Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences will be providing free DNA testing for hepatitis B and RNA testing

New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS) The Interim Budget presented on Thursday by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman lacks focus on mental health, rising cost of medical devices, said experts.

The experts hailed the government’s proposal to encourage vaccination for girls in the age group of 9 to 14 years for prevention of cervical cancer, and lauded the plan to make one comprehensive programme for various schemes for maternal child care.

“We welcome the announcements made by the government towards the health sector including the need for strengthening the primary healthcare facilities. But, as a mental health expert, we are disappointed that nothing much has been announced for strengthening mental health,” said Dr Jyoti Kapoor, Founder & Director, Manasthali Wellness.

“We had expected that mental illness would be included in the Ayushman Bharat scheme to increase accessibility to treatment for financially disadvantaged populations. We also wished that insurance policies and schemes cover mental illnesses to improve affordability,” she added.

Experts noted that the need to address mental health is urgent as approximately 150 million Indians require mental health care services, and there is a stark shortage of professionals — only 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.07 psychologists, and 0.07 social workers per 100,000 people.

“While the interim budget lacked specific policies or initiatives for the mental health sector, we remain optimistic that post-election, the full budget will address this critical area,” said Dr Neerja Agarwal, Psychologist and Co-founder Emoneeds (Mental & Health Wellness).

The Budget also stressed on upgradation of anganwadi centres under saksham anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 for improved nutrition delivery, early childhood care, and development.

“While the government’s laudable efforts, such as cervical cancer vaccination and maternal healthcare schemes, tackle vital health concerns, there remains room for improvement. Greater emphasis on budgetary allocations for healthcare infrastructure, telemedicine expansion, medical research funding, could have significantly enhanced accessibility and healthcare delivery across the nation,” said Lovekesh Phasu, Group COO, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru.

The experts said that the budget also failed to focus on the rising cost of medical devices.

“The budget has fallen short of expectations for addressing the rising import graph of medical devices and soaring import bills worth over Rs 63,200 crore ($8 billion),” said Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator, Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AiMeD).

“We do hope to see in the fine print action on the assurances from various government departments to implement the National Medical Devices Policy 2023 and make it attractive and profitable to make in India rather than import into India,” Nath said.

As per GTRI report of August 2023, the Indian medical devices industry can expand from $12 billion to $50 billion by 2030, reducing import reliance to 35 per cent and boosting exports to $18 billion.

Nath noted that supporting policies are needed so that the industry can make quality healthcare accessible and affordable for the common masses. This will also help aim to place India among the top five medical devices manufacturing hubs worldwide and help end the 80-85 per cent import dependence forced upon us and an ever-increasing import bill of over 63,200 crore,” he said.

Pavan Choudary, Chairman, Medical Technology Association of India (MTaI) hailed the government’s plan to bring schemes for maternal and child care under one common. He said this would help deliver optimal and comprehensive care throughout India.

However, “the customs duty has not gone down, which was our expectation, and remains at the same level.”

“This will take FDI in MedTech to a never-before high this financial year. However, if the government had reduced the customs duties, the FDI in MedTech could have taken a meteoric trajectory,” Choudary said.

–IANS

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