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India's health spend low, needs to be made priority: Niti Aayog's V K Paul

Says competing priorities have subdued it, Calls for raising spend to 8% of budget

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In 2018-19, India's spending on the health sector was 1.5 per cent of the gross domestic product

India health expenditure is “low” and needs to be raised by both the Centre and state government to 8 per cent of the Budget, said V K Paul, member-health, NITI Aayog. 

Competing priorities have kept the spending on the sector low, said Paul, calling for an immediate correction in this, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Addressing the Asia Health Summit, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on Thursday, Paul said the current expenditure is less than 5 per cent of the Budget in most states. “The Centre will have to work with states to see how they can give a higher priority to health and give preference to directing their resources towards this sector,” Paul said.

In 2018-19, India’s spending on the health sector was 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product. He said this was an improvement over the last decade, even though the European countries spent 7-8 per cent of GDP on health.

Paul, chairman of the national committee on vaccine administration for Covid-19, also said that according to the National Health Mission document, India’s expenditure on the sector should be around 3 per cent of GDP by 2025.

V K Paul
V K Paul, member-health, NITI Aayog

Various steps taken towards medical education and the provision for priority-sector lending for the sector will address the issue of shortage of manpower, he said.

For instance, since 2014 there has been a 45 per cent increase in the number of medical colleges, a 48 per cent rise in the number of undergraduate medical seats and a 79 per cent jump in post-graduate medical seats. A total of 114 new government hospitals will come up in the next three years, Paul said. 

He said the government has to also increasing the spending on primary health care, and the centres of excellence and research. 

There is, however, a need to double the number of beds available in the country and improve the secondary and tertiary sector, where the private sector will have a role to play.