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Budget 2023: Health allocation puts focus on pharma research, collaborative R&D at ICMR labs

Total allocation for health and family welfare department stood at Rs 89,155 cr, about 0.34% higher than last year’s allocation of Rs 86,200 cr.

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New Delhi: The 2023 Union Budget announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman Wednesday came with a clear focus on encouraging research and development by the pharmaceuticals industry and promotion of medical research both by the private and public sectors. The total allocation for health in the budget stood at 2.1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Sitharaman also announced a programme for the elimination of sickle cell anaemia, with the universal screening of seven crore people in tribal areas where the disease is more common. “A mission to eliminate sickle cell anaemia by 2047 will be launched that will entail awareness creation and universal screening of 7 cr people in the 0-40 years in tribal areas along with counselling,” Sitharaman said in her speech. Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited disease where a person has misshapen haemoglobin, with less ability to carry oxygen.

Sitharaman added: “A new programme to promote research and innovation in pharmaceuticals will be taken up through centers of excellence. We shall also encourage industry to invest in research and development in specific priority areas. Dedicated multidisciplinary courses for medical devices will be supported in existing institutions to ensure availability of skilled manpower for futuristic medical technologies, high-end manufacturing and research.”

Select Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) laboratories would have facilities, she said, for research by faculty members of private and public medical colleges and private sector research and development (R&D) teams in a bid to encourage “collaborative research and innovation”.

The focus on research was welcomed by the industry.

The finance minister also announced that 157 new nursing colleges would be set up in core locations, along with the existing 157 medical colleges that have been established since 2014. She also pointed out that India has administered 220 crore Covid vaccines to 102 crore people since the vaccination drive started.

The total allocation for the department of health and family welfare stood at Rs 89,155 crore, which is just about 0.34 per cent higher than last year’s allocation of Rs 86,200 crore. Included in this is the budget estimate for the department of health research — at Rs 2980 crore — which is less than last year’s estimate of Rs 3,200 crore, but slightly more than the 2022-23 revised estimate of Rs 2775 crore.

The budget also hiked taxes on cigarettes by 16 per cent. “National Calamity Contingent Duty (NCCD) on specified cigarettes was last revised three years ago. This is proposed to be revised upwards by about 16 per cent,” Sitharaman said.

Also read: Budget 2023: Govt should extend PLI scheme to new sectors to boost manufacturing, say experts

Industry reactions

Responding to the focus on research in the budget, Charu Sehgal, partner, Lifesciences & Healthcare Leader, Deloitte India said, “The announcement of providing investment and setting up centres of excellence to promote research and development in pharma is much needed and will help India move up the value chain in the life sciences sector.”

She added: “The focus on providing skilled manpower availability for high-end research and manufacturing in the medical technology sector will help India become more self-reliant and reduce the current high dependence on imports.”

Terming the budget as “really good”, Dr Ajay Swaroop, chairman (board of management) , Sir Ganga Ram Hospital said, “This year’s budget is really good. We are very pleased that this year allocation of funds for healthcare has been increased in this year’s budget.”

Swaroop added: “Start of 157 nursing colleges will help in shortening gap in students for nursing care. Also initiative to eliminate sickle cell anemia is a welcome step. It would have been nice if some incentive would have been given to charitable hospitals like us who have been doing real charity work for the past five decades. Also some focus on funding and incentive for doing telemedicine and research in remote areas would have been a welcome step.”

(This is an updated version of the copy.)

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Budget 2023: Eye on polls, Modi govt allots Rs 15,000 cr for tribal development — 5x hike


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