Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan told Rajya Sabha MPs that 19,576 HWCs were currently operational across the country. By the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year, the Government plans to raise the number of HWCs to 40,000, he added.
“The AB-HWCs are envisioned to provide an expanded range of services,” Dr Vardhan said in his written statement to Parliament. These services “[include] care for non-communicable diseases as well as prevention, and health promotion and wellness activities like Yoga apart from services already being provided for maternal and child health, including immunisation and communicable diseases.” Vardhan stated that free essential medicines and diagnostics are also dispensed through the HWCs. This is in addition to the government-run Jan Aushadhi kendras which provide generic medicines at low costs; the Centre eventually intends to add one such kendra for every block, including adding 2,500 new stores by 2020.
On top of HWCs, Vardhan touted the number of hospitals empanelled under Ayushman Bharat. These hospitals, belonging both to the public and private sectors, can dispense the 1,393 benefit packages covered under Ayushman Bharat to registered beneficiaries. Vardhan said that 7,997 private facilities and 7,968 public hospitals were empanelled. The reach of the scheme, meanwhile, covers thirty states and union territories where Ayushman Bharat is currently functional. Delhi, Odisha, and Telangana are the lone holdout states.
Ayushman Bharat featured heavily in the BJP’s campaign in this year’s Lok Sabha elections, with its manifesto pledges including the establishment of 1.5 lakh HWCs. At the time, it was reported that 17,000 such centres were functional. The Union Budget unveiled earlier this year allocated Rs 6,400 crore for the PMJAY to facilitate its efforts to expand healthcare coverage for economically vulnerable Indians, with the use of HWCs to strengthen India’s primary healthcare infrastructure an integral part of this.