India’s bumpy road to universal health coverage

By Sophie Cousins 24 August 2015

Dr. Veena Kundra, Shivpuri District Hospital’s only gynecologist, reviews patients’ records inside a maternity ward. Health care experts have raised concerns over India’s planned universal health care program. Photo by: Nick Cunard / Department for International Development / CC BY-NC-ND

One of Narendra Modi’s campaign promises last year was to give “high priority” to the health sector, promising to unroll a universal health assurance plan before his term ends.

But shortly before celebrating his first year in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked for a massive cutback in the proposed budget to roll out his ambitious universal health care plan, after estimates pegged total costs at $18.5 billion over five years.

Modi still has four years to deliver on his promise. But with the first two proposed budgets both sent to the chopping block, and India’s main health department receiving a meager 2 percent rise in funding, workers in the health care sector are left wondering: How will the government fund and actually deliver not just its national health policy but also universal health coverage?

Further, how can universal health coverage be delivered in a country of more than 1.2 billion? In a country with a health system that attracts millions of medical tourists but which propels more than 60 million Indians into poverty each year because of unaffordable health care costs?

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About the author

Sophie Cousins

Sophie Cousins is a health writer based in India. She was previously based between Lebanon and Iraq focusing on refugee health and conflict. She is particularly interested in infectious diseases and rural health in South Asia. She writes for international medical journals, including The Lancet, and for international news websites such as Al-Jazeera English.

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