The maiden budget of the second LDF government presented by Finance Minister KN Balagopal comes in the middle of the second wave of Covid-19. Ahead of the possible third wave of Covid-19, the budget prioritised the health sector and put forth key initiatives to expand preventive healthcare facilities in the state, sending a message that the government is prepared to fight upcoming challenges. The budget, overall, has given clear emphasis on research, collaborative approach and market economy, giving us important cues about the government’s focus areas and intent at this given juncture.
The speech focused on strengthening the core aspects of health infrastructure by introducing isolation wards for contagious diseases at all community health centres, taluk, district and general hospitals; independent blocks in medical college hospitals for combating contagious diseases; enhancing bed strength of pediatric ICUs; setting up liquid medical oxygen plant of 150-tonne capacity via PPP, and promoting vaccine research and development by encouraging manufacturers to set up units in Kerala.
Besides, it also mentioned the creation of a conducive industrial ecosystem for the production of consumables and equipment related to medical care. Atypical of the Left government, a fresh and welcome development across many of these proposed initiatives is the recognition given to the role of private entities in Kerala’s revival story. This is a marked departure from its conventional route of setting up a public sector unit.
Overall, the initiatives are aimed at building a system that is ready and responsive to protect the public from emerging threats. However, this requires institutionalising the processes. It is not only the investment in infrastructure or collaborative approach that will improve the services, it requires a network of professionals and trained manpower to augment the operations of the healthcare system.
Covid-19 has showcased that public healthcare cannot be confined to health infrastructure, doctors and nurses alone, but must have a permanent cadre comprising all relevant stakeholders. Kerala’s experience particularly shows that coordination among the various stakeholders including the administrative mechanisms,institutional arrangements (government and non-governmental), media, social workers, law enforcement agencies, technology, domain experts and academia etc are critical for effective strategy making in tackling a pandemic like Covid-19.
This necessitates an establishment of a permanent public healthcare cadre that would be a collective of the aforesaid stakeholders directed to establish a framework for improving coordination and collaboration with stakeholders. The body should be responsible for creating a forward-looking response framework and take swift action backed by scientific evidence in the event of any public health eventualities.
The CDC Model (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) and the emphasis on the research on public health is a step in the right direction to combat future pandemics. As the economy and healthcare systems try to emerge from the crisis, it is imperative to build a system that is backed by scientific evidence and provide immediate leadership in response to health emergencies. Altogether, the budget reflects an open and accommodative stance taken by the government by welcoming collaboration, participation of various stakeholders and encouraging investments.
(The writer is a Senior Associate, Research, at Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi)
This article was first published in The New Indian Express