Affected by two waves of COVID-19 and with serious concerns about a possible third wave amid the mutations, it was evident that the Assam Budget 2021-22 would have a "healthier" allocation for health and family welfare compared to the time of the previous year when the pandemic hadn't quite threatened public health in the state.
There was a perceptible increase in the size of budget tabled by Assam's finance minister Ajanta Neog, with Rs 7004.36 crore allocated for the department as against Rs 6128 crore allocated in 2020-21.
Prior to the pandemic, the health infrastructure especially for tertiary care was limited to medical college hospitals. Up to March 2020, the number of ICU beds was just 400, out of which only about 120 could be earmarked for COVID patients. There were only approximately 400 oxygen supported beds mainly dependent on oxygen cylinders.
But the "dreaded" COVID has prompted a major ramp up in health infrastructure. The number of ICU beds in the state has now been increased to 1540 with approximately 1099 ICU beds dedicated to COVID patients. What's more, the number of oxygen supported beds has been ramped up to 3,855.
For emergency, 600 ICU beds are being built at Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), while a temporary COVID Hospital at Sarusajai has 100 beds apart from 200 additional beds at GMCH.
"The establishment of new medical colleges plays a vital role in healthcare initiatives for the citizens," the finance minister said while tabling the budget in the Assembly on Friday.
To further boost the healthcare initiatives, the Budget proposes to establish five new medical colleges (at a total cost of Rs 80 crore) with an allocation of Rs 16 crore for each college at Golaghat, Dhemaji, Morigaon, Bongaigaon and Tamulpur.
"We propose to increase the number of medical colleges to 20. Currently, we have about 1000 MBBS and 711 PG seats in Assam. This will substantially increase when all the medical colleges start functioning," Neog said.
To further boost the healthcare initiatives, the Budget proposes to establish five new medical colleges (at a total cost of Rs 80 crore) with an allocation of Rs 16 crore for each college at Golaghat, Dhemaji, Morigaon, Bongaigaon and Tamulpur.The finance minister also announced that 1000 health sub-centres in the state would be converted to hospitals in the coming days. "We will be providing basic healthcare facilities, including the services of a doctor in 1,000 sub centres to make them Buniyadi Swasthya Kendras (BSKs) where free medical consultation, diagnostics tests/ medical treatment of primary diseases including diabetes, hypertension, asthma and communicable diseases shall be provided," she said.
Besides, the Budget also lays emphasis on taking the mantra of accessible and affordable cancer care forward. As it is, during the previous tenure, the health department, in partnership with Tata Trusts, set up a not-for-profit company by the name of Assam Cancer Care Foundation (ACCF) to construct and commission a three-level cancer care network.
It is expected that the cancer hospitals at Dibrugarh, Barpeta, Tezpur, Lakhimpur, Mangaldoi, Kokrajhar and Jorhat will become functional during the current financial year while hospitals at Guwahati, Silchar and Diphu are targeted to be completed during 2022.
The state government has so far contributed Rs 750 crore towards the construction of the cancer hospitals while Tata Trusts have undertaken the task of providing equipment required in these hospitals and committed a grant of up to Rs 830 crore for the purpose.
"This scheme will be continued and all funds necessary will be provided in due course," the finance minister said.
Neog also referred to the rapid strides made by the state government in the health sector during the past five years while briefly outlining the journey forward.
"Under Ayushman Bharat - Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) around 27 lakh families can avail of cashless treatment across 1350 procedures," she said.
"The Blood Bank at Guwahati Medical College and Hospital will be upgraded. We will establish two new blood banks with Component Separation Units (CSU) facilities at Lakhimpur Medical College and Nagaon Medical College.
"It is proposed to upgrade sub-divisional hospitals at Biswanath, Charaideo, Majuli, West Karbi Anglong, and South Salmara to District Hospitals. We will also establish a 100-bed maternal and child health (MCH) wing at S.K. Roy Civil Hospital in Hailakandi district," she said.