Rs20 billion allocated for coronavirus-hit health sector in budget 2020-21


ISLAMABAD: The federal government has allocated only Rs20 billion for the coronavirus-hit health infrastructure out of a total of Rs650 billion allocated under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for the fiscal year 2020-21.

According to Federal Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar, the health sector is a priority of the government in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

For 28 ongoing and 24 new schemes in the health sector, the federal government has proposed an allocation of Rs14.508 billion for the fiscal year 2020-21 under the PSDP, which is only Rs1.132 billion more as compared to the budgetary allocation made in 2019-20.

In his budgetary speech, Azhar spoke much about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its impact yet the federal government allocated nothing significant to improve healthcare services across the country and instead left much for the provincial governments to do.

For better healthcare services, prevention of communicable diseases, manufacturing of medical equipment and to boost capacities of health institutions, the government has allocated Rs20 billion for the health sector, said the minister while presenting the budget speech on Friday. He added he hope that the provincial governments would continue to play their role for the objectives.

The budgetary allocations made by the government may not bring a significant change for the poor public bound to have treatment in miserable conditions at public sector hospitals of the country.

It is worth mentioning here that last year, when the country was not hit by the coronavirus, the PTI government had proposed an allocation of Rs13.376 billion for health sector and ironically, the previous government announced an allocation of Rs25.034 billion for health sector under PSDP for the fiscal year 2018-19, Rs48.701 billion for the fiscal year 2017-18, Rs24.951 billion for the year 2016-17, Rs24.951 billion for the year 2015-16, Rs20.70 billion for the fiscal year 2015-16, Rs26.814 billion for 2014-15 and Rs25.739 billion for the fiscal year 2013-14.

Azhar, however, said the government has exempted tax from import of medical equipment related to coronavirus on March 20, 2020, through an SRO 237 and after the increase in the intensity of coronavirus illness, the government proposed extension in the exemption for another three months on the recommendations of the health ministry.

According to budget estimates 2020-21, a total of Rs25.494 billion would be spent on health affairs and services, which is higher by 130.55% from the budget estimates of 2019-20. The government has allocated Rs22.774 billion for hospital services, Rs2.184 billion for health administration while Rs504 million for public health services and only Rs31 million for medical products, appliances and equipment.

In the healthcare facilities at all levels including primary, secondary and tertiary levels, the general public has to suffer badly mainly because of the unavailability of medicines and sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. Majority of public sector healthcare facilities are working in pathetic condition and it has been exposed since the COVID-19 hit population in the country. Not only the COVID-19 victims but also individuals visiting public sector healthcare facilities have to spend huge amounts on diagnostic tests from private laboratories.

Health experts believe that allocating millions or billions of rupees for the purchase of medical equipment or building hospitals would not serve the purpose if adequate investment is not made on the subject of training of healthcare professionals across Pakistan.

The government should give due attention to improve emergency medical services and for the availability of medicines to public at reasonable prices, the government must have to work for transfer of technology and nothing in this regard has been allocated by the government for the health sector.

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