Health sector gets priority as government unveils its annual plans amid pandemicThe government has announced ambitious plans for social sector, but experts say they need budgetary support.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Friday unveiled the government’s policies and programme before Parliament prioritising the social sector, especially health services and education.
The government plans to revamp the entire health sector and provide international- quality health and education services, said the president in her speech.
According to the ambitious plan, the government shall make arrangements to set up hospitals with 5-15 beds in each of the 753 local levels, 25 to 50 beds in the 75 districts and at least 200 beds in the 14 zones.
The government also aims to set up 500-bed hospitals in each province, upgrade the Pokhara Academy of Health and Sciences, Karnali Academy of Health and Sciences, Koshi Hospital, Narayani Hospital, Bharatpur Hospital, Bheri Hospital and Dadeldhura Hospital to “specialised service hospitals”. Similarly, a 300-bed infectious disease hospital at the centre and a and 50-bed one in the provinces too has become a government priority.
“There will be a structural change in the entire health system of the country,” said Bhandari. Prioritisation in the health services was one of the demands of the lawmakers during the pre-budget discussion that concluded on Wednesday. Similarly, the National Human Rights Commission had also asked the government to make adequate investment in improving the health services of the country.
The policies’ reflect the growing realisation that the Covid-19 has exposed the frail health services of the country, and they need to be ramped up.
Health experts say that while it is good that the government plans to focus on health, it’s plans need to be backed by money and proper monitoring. Dr Praveen Mishra, former secretary at the health secretary, said coordination among the three tiers of government and a visionary leadership in implementing the programme was necessary to ensure the policies and programme are not limited to paper.
“Drafting flowery policies is easy, but implementing them is challenging,” he told the Post. He said there has to be a right person at the right place with a proper vision to turn the government’s slogan into reality. He said the current budget on health, around four percent of the national budget, must be doubled to start implementing the government’s ambitious programme.
Along with health, the policy speech has given due emphasis on education. Equipping all secondary schools and colleges with the internet in the upcoming fiscal year is one of the new plans announced. There are around 9,000 secondary schools while the number of colleges stands at 1,400.
Internet connectivity was prioritised as classes were taken online due to the lockdown. However poor connectivity has hampered such classes.
The government also announced that it shall introduce technical education in each school. It has announced that 2020-2029 would be observed as the decade to improve the public schools across the country.
Similarly, prioritising research-based education and revamping Tribhuvan University, the oldest varsity of the country, as a centre of academic excellence is another priority of the government.
Education experts say it is good that the government has realised the need of technology-based education and research.
However, “good” programmes can only be implemented if there’s adequate budget. Mana Prasad Wagle, an education expert, said the policies and programmes are meaningless if there’s no money to implement them.
“Budget for the education sector is decreasing every year,” he told the Post. “I haven’t seen any positive signs that it will be increased this year.” The education budget, which had reached 17 percent in fiscal year 2011-12, is down to 10 percent in the current fiscal year.