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Ramesh Shankar
Wednesday, February 8, 2023, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

In the Union Budget 2023, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced a slew of initiatives for pharma and healthcare sectors. In her budget speech in Parliament, the Finance Minister has announced that a new programme will be launched to promote research and innovation in pharmaceuticals through centres of excellence. Of course, it is a welcome step by the government as it is clear that the government is focusing on enhancing the healthcare infrastructure of the country through these efforts. And surely, this will encourage industry to invest in research and development in specific priority areas and it will help India become a leader in pharma innovation on the global stage. In yet another significant move, the minister has announced that facilities in select Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) labs will be made available for research by public and private medical college faculty and private sector research teams for encouraging collaborative research and innovation. This proposal will spark innovation as some of the ICMR labs would be open for collaborative research between public and private enterprises. Definitely, this decision by the government will help bridge infrastructure gaps in the research eco-system in the country. The Finance Minister also announced that a mission will be launched to eliminate sickle cell anaemia by 2047, through awareness creation, universal screening of seven crore people in the age of 0-40 years in affected tribal areas, and counselling. This mission to eliminate sickle cell anaemia is laudable and much needed for the country. This programme can play a critical role in the development and implementation of future programmes focused on the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases that are expected to contribute more than 75 per cent of India's burden by 2025.

In addition, the proposal for a multidisciplinary course for medical devices for skilled manpower is also praiseworthy. The dedicated multidisciplinary course for medical devices will be supported in existing institutions to ensure the availability of skilled manpower for futuristic medical technologies and high-end manufacturing and research. Surely, the emphasis on interdisciplinary courses in research, high-end manufacturing, and medical technologies is a step in right direction towards empowering the workforce with up-to-date skills required for the pharma and biopharma sectors. The Finance Minister’s announcement of launching multidisciplinary course for medical device shows the progressive thinking of the government and its commitment towards improvement of the healthcare sector. This shows that the government recognizes the fundamental interdisciplinary nature of medical devices by encouraging collaboration between hardware and software engineers, physicians, and clinicians, which will pave the way for the development of novel and efficient solutions. The establishment of three centres of excellence for artificial intelligence (AI) to enable 'Make AI for India' and 'Make AI work for India' is another significant step by the government to enhance India's digital prowess. Besides, the Finance Minister has also proposed that a total of 157 new nursing colleges will be established in co-location with existing colleges which is a right step towards meeting the ever growing demand for providing care through paramedical staff. All said and done, the budgetary allocation for the healthcare sector is still very poor in the country. The expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP has just grown from 1.4 per cent to 2.1 per cent from financial year 2019 to 2023 which is quite low when compared with other countries such as China at 3.2 per cent or the US at 8.5 per cent. Ideally, the budgetary allocation for the health sector in the country should have been increased to at least 4 per cent of GDP, if not more.


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