Universal healthcare a challenge, says Prez

President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday said lack of adequate infrastructure was a major impediment in the govern-ment’s efforts to provide universal healthcare in the country and that there was a “disproportionately high reliance” on the private sector.

“Provision of universal healthcare is one of the top priorities of the government,” Mukherjee said while speaking at the eighth convocation of the prestigious King George's Medical University here.

“The 11th plan had noted that though the total expenditure on health in India, as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was around five per cent, there was a disproportionately high reliance on private, particularly household’s out-of-pocket expenditure on health,” he said.

He said there was a “critical imbalance” in the healthcare system, which stemmed from deficiencies in the public sector’s capacity to deliver basic healthcare. “The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), launched in 2005, aimed at strengthening healthcare infrastructure in rural areas,” he added.

“As per the date available, public health expenditure is likely to have reached 1.4 per cent of the GDP by the end of the 11th plan period...we now aim at raising it to 2.5 per cent of the GDP by the end of the 12th plan period,” the President said.

Mukherjee asserted that lack of human resources was as responsible for inadequate provision of health as lack of physical infrastructure, especially in the villages. “The density of doctors in India is only 0.6 per one thousand and that of nurses and midwives 1.30 per thousand...it points clearly to the acute shortage of healthcare professionals,” he said.

He stressed the need for sizable expansion in the teaching institutions for doctors, nurses and paramedics. “The ongoing initiatives for integrating AYUSH and capacity development of the traditional healthcare providers needs to be  strengthened,” he said.
“The Centre is also providing financial assistance to state governments for strengthening and up-gradation of government medical colleges to enable them to create new Post Graduate seats and start new Post Graduate Departments.  Distance learning should be encouraged and popularised—as also extension services in rural areas,” he said.

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