Health Allocations for children need a fillip say child rights activists

NEW DELHI: As the Union Budget draws near, activists have demanded increase in the spending on children. As a proportion to the total government expenditure, share of health, nutrition, water supply and sanitation stood at 5.48% on an average during 2005-2009. India spends less than 2% of GDP on health while out-of-pocket spending on health is 73%. 

With some of the world's worst indices, India can ill-afford this indifference. Consider this: two million children under 5 years die every year in India, almost one out of three malnourished children live in India and 45.9% children under 3 years are underweight. 

Demanding an increase in the health budget, Save the Children CEO Thomas Chandy said children were dying of preventable and treatable causes. Reduction of high levels of child and maternal mortality would be difficult to achieve with the current rate of spending. Chandy said, "The government must demonstrate the political will to stop this silent epidemic that is diminishing the country's future." 

According to an analysis of public spending on health, nutrition, water and sanitation by Save the Children, expenditure had reached 1.58% in 2008-09 despite successive governments' claims to increase the health spending to 2%- 3% of GDP. But health expenditure alone without expenditure on water supply and sanitation and nutrition was less than 1% of GDP in 2004-05. This has only gone up marginally to 1.09% of GDP in 2008-09, according to the health ministry. 

Spending on health care in India remains low in comparison to many developing and developed countries. Most European countries spend about 9%-11% of their GDP on public health. Government expenditure as a share of the total health expenditure in India is less than what Asian countries such as China and Indonesia spend on health care. 
This has a direct impact on maternal and child mortality. Globally, it is estimated that an annual rate of decline of 4.4% is needed to reduce deaths of children under 5 by two-thirds by 2015. In India, the annual rate of decline in child mortality between 1990 and 2008 is 2.25%. As per the 2015 target, required rate of decline from 2009 to 2015 per year must be 6.28% to meet the MDG goal.