Wednesday May 22, 2024

Peanuts for new health projects as NHS ministry’s funding won’t go up

By Jamila Achakzai
June 09, 2023

Islamabad: With the country's health expenditure totalling just one per cent of the gross domestic product against the six per cent advocated by the World Health Organisation, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s administration is unlikely to increase healthcare funding in the upcoming fiscal. As the international multilateral lender IMF is setting tough conditions for bailout revival desperately sought by the federal government to fill its 'empty' coffers, just Rs13.1 billion will be doled out to the national health services ministry for development projects in 2022-23 beginning on July 1 against the current financial year’s Rs 12.7 billion, reveals the proposed Public Sector Development Programme.

There will be peanuts for new healthcare schemes in the next budget with experts fearing that poor budgetary allocations will lead to the scaling back of services at health centres to the suffering of the poor. They also complained that healthcare funds lapsed every year due to bureaucratic hiccups and inefficiency and thus, rendering their impact far less than projected. The NHS ministry's development allocations will be meant for Islamabad’s PIMS and Polyclinic hospitals, the National Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, the National Institute of Health, programmes against tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS, and other federal health subjects in the post-devolution regime. According to the PSDP documents to be formally unveiled by finance minister Ishaq Dar in the National Assembly today (Friday), around 81 per cent of the NHS ministry's development budget i.e. Rs10.503 billion, including a paltry foreign aid of Rs130 million, will go to 31 ongoing projects, while only Rs2.597 billion, including Rs250 million foreign assistance, will be spent on the new ones totalling nine.

As for the ongoing health initiatives to be funded next year, the largest chunk of the budgetary allocations i.e. Rs1 billion is meant for the establishment of Islamabad's first full-fledged cancer hospital with the initial capacity to treat around 7,000 poor patients every year free of charge. However, the budget has no money for the ‘Sehat Sahulat’ Programme, the last PTI government's flagship health insurance initiative, which got a hefty amount of Rs4.5 billion from PM Shehbaz Sharif's administration in the current fiscal. Next on the list are Rs356 million funds for improving rural health facilities and strengthening the health department to provide effective healthcare to people in Islamabad, Rs350 million for upgrading the radiology department of the Shaikh Zayed Postgraduate Medical Institute, Lahore, Rs300 million for upgrading the PIMS neurosurgery department and supplying essential equipment to the hospital, and Rs150 million for improving medicine testing facilities at the Drugs Control and Traditional Medicine Division at the National Institute of Health, Islamabad. A look at new health projects to be executed in 2023-24 shows the largest part of the Rs2.597 billion budget will be spent on the National Programme for Prevention of Diabetes, the Prime Minister's Hepatitis-C Control Programme, and the establishment of the Centre of Biologics and Cancer Research and Treatment at the Pir Abdul Qadir Shah Jeelani Institute of Medical Sciences, Gimbat, Sindh (Rs500 million each). The other new healthcare initiatives to receive money next year are the establishment of an infectious disease lab (Rs300 million), the strengthening and upgrade of diabetes and endocrinology department at the Polyclinic hospital (Rs250 million), the establishment of a community health centre in Islamabad's Bokra village (Rs200 million), and strengthening of the drug control section of the Islamabad's health department (Rs150 million).