Health sector gets 32 percent more budget compared to previous yearExperts say that the budget will be insufficient to deal with the pandemic and resume regular services if the number of Covid-19 cases surges past government estimates.
The government has allocated Rs 90.69 billion for the health sector for the upcoming fiscal year, around 32 percent more than previous fiscal when Rs 68.78 billion was set aside under the heading.
Although the health sector’s share of the pie has increased to six percent compared to 4.9 percent in the previous year, experts say the fund may not be sufficient to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, and resume regular health services, if the number of cases continue to surge. The government has allocated Rs 6 billion for the treatment of people infected with Covid-19, and Rs 500,000 to provide insurance cover for health workers dealing with all infectious diseases.
"More budget will be needed [to fight Covid-19], if the number of cases spikes beyond the government’s estimates," Dr Senandra Upreti, former secretary for health, told the Post."The government should have allocate additional funds to be used in emergency situations to address the epidemic," he added.
The main priority of the budget is to save lives and address the epidemic, said Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada in his speech before Parliament on Thursday as he announced government plans to increase the number of hospital beds at district and zone-level hospitals, and intensive care beds at various hospitals. Similarly, it plans to set up trauma centers in hospitals near all major highways, and quarantines and health desks at international airports and land crossings.
The government has allocated Rs 12.46 billion has for the development of infrastructure in health care. The amount will be used to set up a 300-bed infectious disease hospital in Kathmandu, and a 50-bed hospital in the capitals of all seven provinces. Similarly, state-run hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley are to get 250 more ICU beds.
The government also plans to provide consultant care at Karnali Academy of Health Sciences, and in Pokhara, Koshi, Narayani, Bharatpur, Bheri and Dadeldhura hospitals.
Travel allowance of female community health volunteers have been doubled. A sum of Rs 14.27 billion has been allocated to set up 272 health facilities at local levels.
The government has announced plans to expand the capacity of the National Public Health Laboratory, set up high-tech laboratories in all provinces, and enhance the capacity of the Department of Drug Administration.
Experts, however, say that with the focus on the epidemic, the government has not announced its plans to resume regular health care services. "The government has not allocated a budget to resume regular health care services, which has halted for over two months," said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
He also said that resumption of regular health services was crucial as a lot of progress made in health over the years has received setbacks due to the pandemic. "Due to the ongoing epidemic, a lot of programmes of health sectors of the ongoing fiscal year were not implemented, which have caused set back to the progress made over the years by investing huge budgets."
Hundreds of thousands across the country have been deprived of health care services for a long time and those services cannot be resumed like in the past, he said adding that the government needs to come up with new strategies to address the problems. “But the budget speech is silent on the issue.”