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India slashes health budget & HIV/AIDS funds, already world’s lowest

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A paramedic distributes free medicine provided by the government to patients inside a ward at RGGGH in Chennai

A paramedic distributes free medicine provided by the government to patients inside a ward at RGGGH in Chennai


In addition to the healthcare budget, the finance ministry has also ordered a spending cut for India’s HIV/AIDS programme by about 30 percent to 13 billion rupees ($205.4 million). India had the third-largest number of people living with HIV in the world at the end of 2013.

The government has ordered a cut of nearly 20 percent in its 2014/15 healthcare budget due to fiscal strains, putting at risk key disease control initiatives in a country whose public spending on health is already among the lowest in the world.

Two health ministry officials stated on Tuesday that more than 60 billion rupees, or $948 million, has been slashed from their budget allocation of around $5 billion for the financial year ending on March 31.

Despite rapid economic growth over the past two decades, successive governments have kept a tight rein on healthcare expenditure. India spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on public health, compared to 3 percent in China and 8.3 percent in the United States.

But hopes were high that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected in May, would upgrade basic health infrastructure and make medical services more affordable for the poor.

The United Nations estimates about one third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in India.

“We were not expecting (budget cuts) this time because of the commitments they made in the manifesto,” one of the health ministry officials said, referring to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “No reason was given … but there is shortage of funds. It is not rocket science.”

The officials requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The finance ministry, which ordered the spending reduction and overruled objections from the health ministry at a recent meeting, did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The move reflects the government’s struggle to achieve its 2014/15 fiscal deficit target of 4.1 percent of GDP.

Dominated by private players, India’s healthcare industry is growing at an annual clip of around 15 percent, but public spending has remained low and resulted in a dilapidated network of government hospitals and clinics, especially in rural areas.

One of the health ministry officials said the cut could crimp efforts to control the spread of diseases. More newborns die in India than in poorer neighbours such as Bangladesh, and preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea kill more than a million children every year.

The retrenchment could also derail an ambitious universal healthcare programme that Modi wants to launch in April. The plan aims to provide all citizens with free drugs and diagnostic treatments, as well as insurance benefits.

The cost of that programme over the next four years had been estimated at 1.6 trillion rupees ($25 billion). The health ministry officials had been expecting a jump in their budget for the coming year, in part to pay for this extra cost.

“Even next year we don’t think we’ll get a huge amount of money,” said one official, adding that it was now unclear how the new programme would be funded.

HIV/AIDS FUNDS SLASHED

In addition to the healthcare budget, the finance ministry has also ordered a spending cut for India’s HIV/AIDS programme by about 30 percent to 13 billion rupees ($205.4 million).

India had the third-largest number of people living with HIV in the world at the end of 2013, according to the U.N. AIDS programme, and it accounts for more than half of all AIDS-related deaths in the Asia-Pacific.

In October, India was on the brink of running out of a critical medicine in its free HIV/AIDS drugs programme due to bureaucratic delays. A crisis was averted with the assistance of pharmaceutical companies and global health organisations.

Still, health activists complain about dire shortages of several HIV/AIDS diagnostic kits.

“We are all in shock. That shows the kind of importance the government attaches to public health,” said Leena Menghaney, a New Delhi-based public health activist. “This will undermine the HIV programme in the long run.”

Credit: Reuters

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Shimla: Charitable Trust Providing Free Meals to Home Isolated Covid-19 Patients

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Upadhayaya Educational Trust

Shimla-Coronavirus pandemic has proved to be a major blow to the state’s governance. At a time when almost all three tiers of government failed to assess and prepare for the second wave in the country, many organisations have come forward to help the ordinary citizens in need. The Sunil Upadhayaya Educational Trust has been running an initiative to provide free food for those in home isolation in the state’s capital city.

The trust started the initiative from 28th April 2021, and is currently providing free meals to at least 83 Covid-19 positive families in Shimla, Trust Secretary Dr Surendra Sharma said.

Joint Secretary informed that the meal plan for Covid-19 patients have been prepared after taking into consideration all the dietary requirements of such patients . Suggestions for this diet plan were taken from doctors.

A well-planned protein diet consisting of fruits, salads, sprouts, vegetable, pulses, rice, Indian flatbread (roti), and a sweet dish is being provided to the home isolated patients, the trust added.
Social Service by The Sunil Upadhayaya Educational Trust

The trust informed that all the people involved in the initiative, including the cooks, have undergone the RT-PCR test.

Trust secretary, Dr. Sharma, claimed that the trust has managed to deliver 676 food packages till now. He also informed that the trust is running two helpline numbers for those in need of the food service. Needy people can reach the trust at the given numbers: 9418006194, 9805349124

The trust is also organising free online coaching classes for the students of class 10th and 12th for 35 days.

“All those students who are facing problems to manage their studies in the pandemic due to unavailability of required resources can contact the trust members and get themselves registered for the free classes,” Joint Secretary said.

In the past, Sunil Upadhayaya Educational Trust have organized various initiatives like cloth banks, and clothes distribution drives too, Dr Joint Secretary.

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Despite Inauguration of Oxygen Plant in Hamirpur, No Ventilator Support for Patients

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oxygen plant in hamirpur medical college

Shimla-Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur had inaugurated two Pressure Swing Absorption (PSA) Oxygen Plant at Dr. Radhakrishnan Government Medical College, Hamirpur, and Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College, Chamba on Sunday. The government had ensured to provide uninterrupted oxygen supply to the patients admitted in both these medical colleges.

But now allegations are being labelled that he inaugurated the plant in Hamirpur in haste while the patients are still not receiving ventilator support.

According to a report published in a daily, the PSA plant in Dr. RKGMC established at the cost of Rs 1 crore couldn’t provide any relief to the patients. Despite the inauguration, the patients are being referred to Dr. Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College, Tanda and Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Government Hospital, Ner Chowk

The report said that critically ill covid patients are being referred to nearby hospitals even after the inauguration of the plant and the timely availability of ambulances is also another inconvenience that the patients are facing. A covid positive police officer in critical condition was shifted to Ner Chowk on Tuesday. Last week a  BJP member in Hamirpur succumbed to corona due to the unavailability of a ventilator in the hospital, the report said.  

The PSA Oxygen plant at Hamirpur has a capacity of 300PLM. The plant was supposed to supply oxygen to a 30-bedded fully dedicated covid ward.

Senior officials from Dr. RKGMC, responding to the query, said that the oxygen plant is running, but the ward with ventilator facility is not ready yet. They said that covid patients can’t be shifted to the ward until the work concludes. The officials assured that the ward will be made functional soon.

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Govt and People Flaunting Interstate Travel SOPs Costing Himachal

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HP govt interstate travel sops

Shimla– Though the Himachal Pradesh Government has now announced imposition of strict curfew, similar to a lockdown, there is no doubt about it that both the government and the public underestimated the second wave of the pandemic armed with double mutant- more deadly than the first one. The government in the state was hardly able to take timely decisions at its own and those taken appeared to be ineffective and half-hearted. My own experience is a testimony to the carelessness shown by the government, as well as, the people during inter-state travel. 

HP Govt was one among the many states that made it mandatory for people entering the state to register with COVID e-pass and to carry a negative RT-PCR report. The measures taken by the government seemed commendable to me until I faced the ground reality.

A week after the official notification was issued, I travelled to the state capital city from New Delhi – one of the major hotspots. Rigorous checking and contact tracing is the need of the hour, but what’s happening at the border is far more different than what is expected of the officials.

It shouldn’t come to us as a surprise if fake e-passes in the names of Donald Trump and Amitabh Bachhan are being produced. This matter should put light on the negligent approach of state authorities. As much as we trust the government bodies to contain the virus, they are dangerously failing. In my own experience, I wasn’t asked to produce a negative RT-PCR report upon entering the state, nobody in the last 72hrs tried to contact trace me. I travelled to Shimla in a public transportation bus, on the eve of 4th May 2021. On entering the state border, the assigned official made no extraordinary attempt to check the passengers. Many were travelling without e-pass and RT-PCR test reports. I even asked the official to check my RT-PCR report, to which he showed no concern. It is due to careless mistakes like these that made India one of the most affected countries in the world.

I also noticed that many passengers were not carrying e-passes, either because they were not aware of the need to carry them, or because they didn’t take this mandatory condition seriously. The sheer ignorance of common people and those who are appointed to keep check of the situation is the reason why we are heading towards a catastrophe. The onus is on us, too. I made sure that I travelled with e-pass, so that the state government stays aware of my movement. I got my test done so that I don’t infect the virus to others unknowingly. I am also observing home isolation for a period of 14 days because there’s no harm in following the precautionary measures.

India is in the second wave of this deadly pandemic, and it is time we take responsibility for our actions. The primary reason for the rise of the second wave in India is the rampant violation of COVID protocols.

Now that the state government has decided to implement a curfew similar to a lockdown, I expect that the new Covid protocols will not have any loophole. This time people along with the administration will have to stay prepared to face the reality. The virus can be stopped, but only with our combined efforts.

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