A Healthy Nation is a Wealthy Nation RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BUDGET 2024 Alexander Thomas and Divya Alexander

The healthcare sector plays a pivotal role in ensuring the well-being of a nation's citizens. However, in many countries, including ours, there is a pressing need to address various shortcomings and to enhance the overall healthcare landscape. In this regard, several key recommendations have been put forth to address crucial areas that require attention and investment.

Increase Allocation to the Health Sector
One of the primary recommendations is to increase the allocation for the healthcare sector. This increase is crucial to enhance infrastructure, improve access to healthcare, and raise the quality of care provided. It is proposed to elevate the budget allocation for healthcare from its current level of around 1% to a minimum of 2.5%, exclusively designated for the sector.

Focus on Wellness and Prevention
Allocating funds towards wellness and preventive healthcare programs such as health screenings, vaccinations and lifestyle modifications can be instrumental in addressing the root causes of illnesses and promoting overall well-being. By shifting from a reactive approach to a proactive approach, the healthcare system can potentially alleviate the burden of treating advanced illnesses. A core feature of this is capacity building in the area of lifestyle medicine in all medical colleges and healthcare institutions.  

Senior Citizens Health
As per the 2011 census, 104 million Indians were over the age of 60. It is projected to reach 340 million (19% of the population) by 2050. The healthcare needs of senior citizens are of paramount importance. Improving healthcare facilities at the primary care level, ensuring adequate capacity, and providing necessary staff are essential steps to cater to the specific requirements of this demographic. Additionally, removing GST from health insurance for senior citizens and ensuring affordable insurance options tailored for seniors is crucial. Furthermore, considering the inclusion of seniors in the missing middle in healthcare schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) can significantly enhance their support and coverage.

Green Hospitals
In an era where environmental sustainability is gaining increasing significance, it is imperative to allocate funds to support the transition of hospitals and health facilities towards environmentally friendly and sustainable practices including energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable procurement, and proper waste management. This would not only reduce the carbon footprint but also contribute to a healthier environment for patients and staff.

Strengthening Mental Health Services
The growing mental health challenges in the country across all segments of the demographic necessitate increased budgetary support for mental health services and awareness programs. According to the National Mental Health Survey of India (2014-2016), the treatment gap (proportion of patients that need treatment for mental health disorders but do not receive it) in India is 85%. By addressing mental health issues, especially dementia, the healthcare system can significantly enhance the overall well-being of the population.

Investment in Technology
The expansion and enhancement of telemedicine services are crucial to improve access to healthcare, particularly in remote areas. Therefore, allocating resources to bolster telemedicine services and use of technology in providing accessible and quality healthcare is essential in bridging the healthcare gap between urban and rural populations.
Strengthening Public Private Partnerships 
Through this important mechanism, healthcare access and infrastructure can be enhanced, and resource constraints can be addressed, particularly in rural areas. This is vital to ensure equitable access to healthcare across the nation.

Antimicrobial Resistance
The issue of antimicrobial resistance is a looming health crisis that demands immediate collective action. It is essential to make a significant plan in the budget to incorporate measures to address this critical issue throughout the country. Currently, only a few states have started implementation of a State Action Plan on AMR.

In conclusion, these recommendations aim to improve healthcare accessibility, affordability, and sustainability while addressing the specific needs of senior citizens and promoting overall wellness and prevention. By prioritizing these areas, the healthcare sector can take significant strides towards a healthier and more robust future.