It is no secret that our public health system is in dire straits. With less than one doctor for every 11,000 people and shortages of hospitals, personnel and resources (especially in rural areas), many patients face difficulty availing care.
It boggles the mind, then, that states aren’t making the most of the healthcare funds.
Between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 periods, 29 percent of National Health Mission (NHM) funds allocated to states to reinforce their health systems went unspent. This is according to a recent audit by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which also found that funds were also misappropriated to other sectors.
“It is no secret that our public health system is in dire straits…It boggles the mind, then, that states aren’t making the most of the healthcare funds.”
“The diversion of NHM funds for non-NHM purposes/state government schemes is never supported by the ministry,” said Manoj Jhalani, additional secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). “If any such instance comes to [our] notice, the same is recovered from the concerned state government, and states are directed to desist from such practice.”
In 2015-16, the unspent funds totalled Rs 9,509 crore (1.44 billion USD). Aside from misallocation, delayed transfers also resulted in funds going to waste. The transfers to state health societies from state treasuries are normally supposed to take fifteen days. In some instances, they were delayed by 271 days.
“In 2015-16, the unspent funds totalled Rs 9,509 crore (1.44 billion USD)”
The figures are reflective of a public health system in disarray – its problems compounded by bureaucracy and inefficiency on the part of officials. Meanwhile, many Indians languish in debt as they are forced to pay their healthcare costs themselves. Such spending accounts for two thirds of the total health expenditure in India – and forced 55 million Indians into poverty in 2011-12.
With this in mind, it is unacceptable that such sizeable portions of NHM funds are unused. India is facing a multiplicity of health crises. Its burden of noncommunicable diseases is escalating at the same time as infectious conditions such as malaria and HIV remain a significant challenge. In the fight for a robust public health system, every rupee counts. State governments wasting funds should be mindful of this.