As the second wave of Covid-19 laid bare India’s healthcare infrastructure with lack of beds and medical-grade oxygen, the Centre on Monday came up with measures and funds to improve the country’s health and medical infrastructure.
Accordingly, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an additional outlay of Rs 23,220 crore for public health.
Addressing the media, Sitharaman said that the new scheme would be focused on short-term emergency preparedness with special emphasis on children and paediatric care and paediatric beds.
The scheme also includes funding for short-term human resource augmentation through medical students, including interns, final year students and nursing students.
The government also aims to increase the availability of ICU beds, oxygen supply at central, district and sub-district levels with the fund and ensure adequate availability of equipment, medicines, access to teleconsultation, ambulance services etc.
According to the government, the Rs 15,000 crore Emergency Health Systems Project (2020-21) led to 25-fold increase in Covid dedicated hospitals, setting up of 7,929 Covid health centres, 9,954 Covid care centres, 7.5 times increase in oxygen supported beds, 42-fold increase in isolation beds, and 45-fold increase in ICU beds.
The allocation would also be utililsed to enhance the testing capacity and supportive diagnostics, strengthen capacity for surveillance and genome sequencing.
The Finance Minister also announced a loan guarantee scheme worth Rs 1.1 lakh crore for the Covid-hit sectors out of which Rs 50,000 crore would be available for healthcare aimed at scaling medical infrastructure targeting the underserved areas.
Under this scheme, guarantee cover would be provided for expansion and new projects related to health or medical infrastructure in cities other than eight metropolitan cities.
The scheme would provide guaranteed coverage of 50 per cent for expansion and 75 per cent for new projects.
For the aspirational districts, guarantee cover would be 75 per cent for both new projects and expansion.
The maximum loan to be provided under the scheme is Rs 100 crore with interest rate capped at 7.95 per cent. The duration for loan guarantee would be up to three years.
The announcements have come on the backdrop of the weakened healthcare infrastructure i the country. The lack of ICU beds and medical-grade oxygen in several parts of the country, including in the national capital, raised several questions on the authorities’ preparedness amid the pandemic.
India has been among the worst-hit countries by the pandemic. According to the data issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, a total of nearly 3.97 lakh deaths have occurred in the country due to Covid-19 and there are nearly 5.73 lakh active cases. A total of over 2.93 crore Covid-infected people have recovered from the disease in India so far.