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India should invest in primary healthcare in Budget 2021: WHO's Swaminathan

Swaminathan cites the example of Thailand which has been building a primary healthcare system for the last 30 years. In fact, the South Asian country had decided very early on that the primary healthcare investment will pay off in the long run

Anand Adhikari | Tuesday, January 12, 2021 | 00:45 IST

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist says healthcare investments are long-term and sustained investments, and she hopes the Union Budget 2021-22 will focus on primary healthcare.

"Without primary care, it is very difficult to solve any of the health issues. The whole focus of Ayushman Bharat is financial protection to poor through insurance. It is explicit that there will be investments in primary healthcare through these health and wellness centres," says Swaminathan.

The global COVID-19 outbreak has taught everyone the importance of investing in primary healthcare.

Ayushman Bharat, targeted to provide free access to healthcare especially poor, is part of the government's National Health Policy. The scheme covers 50 crore people and is world's largest government sponsored healthcare programme. But without primary healthcare in the rural and semi urban areas, experts have raised concerns about the success of the scheme.

Swaminathan cites the example of Thailand which has been building a primary healthcare system for the last 30 years. In fact, the South Asian country had decided very early on that the primary healthcare investment will pay off in the long run than building a few more big hospitals in the city, she says.

Thailand's primary healthcare system is a success story documented by many as it brought the community, government and non government organisation together to cover areas down to the the district and village level. A small country like Thailand is actually reaping the benefits of its timely investments in primary healthcare. WHO had earlier identified Thailand along with New Zealand as the success story in timely action and curbing the COVID-19 outbreak.  

The other big transformation are digital and data analytics. "With digital backbone we can actually do a lot. The private sector can play a role here but the governance of all these rest with government. There needs to be a framework under which all  different players are actually operating. The data flow is also very important," says Swaminathan.

"We need a unified system where data on health can be collected and the government can use that data to improve and prioritise their investments," she adds.

Also watch: India should invest in primary healthcare in Budget 2021: WHO's Swaminathan

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