Health Care in India And ‘Development For All’ Intent

‘Development for All’ has become a buzzword, especially in the political arena of India, and is being used frequently during all recent elections as no one can deny its crucial importance in a country like ours.

Nonetheless, some do feel that there should be greater clarity on what all it encompasses. There is no scope for assumption, either, that it definitely covers the economic growth of the nation. But, does it include health care for all, as well? This is a relevant question, since health care plays a crucial role in maintaining high growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by any country, over a long period of time.

The ideal answer to this question would, of course, be an emphatic ‘yes’? However, on the ground is it really so? I explored that subject in my article published in this Blog on November 06, 2017 titled, ‘Healthcare in India And Hierarchy of Needs’.

In this article, I shall focus on health care and the ‘Development for All’ agenda of the Government, as witnessed by many in recent elections. Let me illustrate the point using one of the most recent state assembly elections as an example – Gujarat Assembly election of December 2017. I am citing this example, because it generated so much excitement among many, across the country, for different reasons, though.

Who is responsible for public health care in India?

A recent submission made on the floor of Parliament by the Government, explains the point unambiguously. It goes, as hereunder:

“Public health is a state subject. Under the National Health Mission, support is being provided to States/UTs to strengthen their health care systems to provide accessible, affordable and quality health care to all the citizens. Moving towards Universal Health Coverage wherein people are able to use quality health services that they need without suffering financial hardship is a key goal of 12th Plan.” This is what the Minister of State, Health and Family Welfare, reiterated in the Lok Sabha, just about a year ago, on November 25, 2016.

Since, public health is predominantly a state subject, and so important for each individual, besides being one of the key indicators for long-term socioeconomic progress of a country and, one expects health care to be a key issue during the state Assembly elections. This is necessary to maintain the pace of development in this area, be it a state or the country.

Intriguingly, it appears to have no more than a ‘me-too’ reference in the election manifestos of political parties.

Does health care scenario in a state matter?

Now, zeroing on to Gujarat election as an example, the media report of March, 2017 highlighted, gradually reducing budget allocation percentage of health care in Gujarat. It elaborated, the State has reduced its budgetary allocation for health care from 5.59 percent of the total budget in 2015-16 to 5.40 percent of the revised budget of 2016-17, and now to 5.06 percent in 2017-18.

Consequently, the health care budget and spending on the proportion to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) is going down year after year. Whereas, globally, the percentage of GSDP spent on health and education is considered a key parameter of human development, the report states.

According to a report of the Observer Research Foundation dated December 06, 2017, Gujarat still has a high dependency to the private sector for both outpatient (84.9 percent cases) and also the inpatient (73.8 percent cases). As a result, the out of pocket spending on health care of the state stands at 63.7 percent. This makes Gujarat climbing up the ladder of per capita income, while slipping down the slope of health and social indicators,” the article states.

Just as what happens in all other Indian states, the recent state assembly elections offered an opportunity for the political leadership, cutting across the party line, for a significant course correction. Making health and nutrition one of the top priority focus areas, would have also ensured sustain economic development for Gujarat, in a more inclusive manner, for a long time to come.

What we are witnessing, instead:

The ‘best’ intent of a political party on any area of governance, if it comes to power, generally gets reflected in the respective election manifestos. From that perspective, let’s take a quick look at the key promises on health care, made in the respective election manifestos of the two principal political parties, on the eve of December 2017Gujarat election. I found these, as follows:

Key highlights on health care in BJP Manifesto:

  • The party promised to open more generic medicine shops
  • Introduce mobile clinics and laboratories
  • Making Gujarat free of vector-borne diseases.

Key highlights on health care in Congress Manifesto:

  • Universal health care card

That’s all?… Yes, that’s it.

India is ‘developing’, but public health care is not:

‘The Lancet’ editorial titled, ‘Health in India, 2017’, published on January 14, 2017, discussed about the current status of public health care in India. It underscored that the government expenditure on health being one of the lowest in the world at 1·4 percent of GDP, is totally inadequate to train staff, buy necessary equipment, or efficiently run public health facilities.

Corruption and an unregulated private sector usually fill this vacuum, and in so doing, fuel irresponsible prescribing, and global export of antimicrobial resistance, besides misery and medical bankruptcy for those within the country, lacking financial protection.

The editor articulated that the solution of this important issue is clear. Publicly financed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) has not only been deliberated in India since the dawn of the nation, but has also been highly recommended by both the domestic and the external stakeholders.

Nevertheless, successive governments seem to be lacking either the spine or the heart to act. As recently as 2011, progressive universalism was included in the government’s 5-year plan, but was never funded – the editorial commented.

Both the States, and also the national election campaigns, offer an opportunity for the politicians who the prospective lawmakers, to steer the States, and in that process the country as a whole, moving towards the UHC.


As heath is a state subject, the issue of providing access to high quality and affordable health care to all should ideally become one of the core issues for all voters, at least, in the State Assembly elections. More so when the sound bite on ‘development for all’ reaches a feverish pitch. There can’t be any holistic ‘development for all’, sans health care and education.

Nonetheless, the reality is, unlike the United States, Europe or Japan, besides a few other countries, the voters in India are also not expressing their concerns in this area, meaningfully. In all probability, ‘development for all’ slogan of the politicians doesn’t include health care to all Indians.

This is likely to continue, in the same way, till the awareness of the socioeconomic impact on health care carves out a niche for itself in the popular political agenda for the voters. Just as what happens with many other economic, technological necessities and other aspirations of people. The recent assembly elections are important pointers to this long persisting trend.

By: Tapan J. Ray  

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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