To make health and well-being the first amongst the six pillars for Budget FY22, along with innovation and R&D, says it all,” says Pankaj Patel, chairman of the pharmaceutical manufacturing firm, Zydus Group. Patel argues that this would bring back the focus onto healthcare and make the sector more robust in the years to come. The finance minister didn’t just stop there. With India being amongst a handful of countries to launch its own Covid-19 vaccine, the government allotted an outlay of ₹35,000 crore for vaccine development. “The importance given to innovation and R&D in this Budget is heartening. Allocation of ₹50,000 crore to the National Research Foundation to be spent over five years will greatly boost the overall research ecosystem in the country and is a step in the right direction.” adds Patel.

Bishnu Panigrahi, group head, medical strategy and operations, Fortis Healthcare, concurs. “Health sector was the opening batsman this time—a first in any Budget presentation,” he remarks. Panigrahi argues that though the corporate healthcare sector needed more hand holding, especially after hospitals shut down for almost six months, a good beginning has been made.

Dr Prathap C. Reddy, chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group—who set up the first corporate hospital in India—was equally vocal. “The Covid-19 pandemic was an unprecedented crisis and it has underlined the importance of building resilient healthcare infrastructure. The announcements to develop primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare systems gladdened my heart,” he says. According to him, this groundbreaking focus on health will provide access to medical care for the country and fuel job creation and help the economy. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Pune-based Serum Institute of India, and which is now manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, is also satisfied with the Budget.“Globally, spending on healthcare infrastructure and vaccine have given countries’ economies the best bang for buck. The finance minister’s emphasis on specifically putting aside an allocation for the Covid-19 vaccine, and for expanding the pneumococcal vaccine, from five states to all states, will help in faster recovery and innovation and expansion of the sector,” he says. Serum launched its pneumococcal vaccine in December 2020.

Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, which is the other vaccine manufacturer which received emergency use authorisation for its Covid-19 vaccine, was also happy with the Budget.

“The announcements made by the finance minister for reforms and conducive measures to boost domestic manufacturing of the medical devices along with the emphasis on preventive care, public-private partnership in Ayushman Bharat, expansion of Jan Aushadhi Kendras in all districts to provide medicines at affordable rates, and many more such measures will provide impetus to the growth of the sector in the long run,” says Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director, Bharat Biotech.

The World Health Organization (WHO), too, had been watching the Budget with interest. WHO’s regional director of South-East Asia region, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, points out that the Budget’s slew of measures aimed at the health sector is a testament to India’s commitment to not just fight back the Covid-19 pandemic, but also to build a stronger and resilient healthcare system.

According to her, one of the greatest lessons this pandemic has taught the world is that health needs to be a priority and India has been demonstrating it by proactively dealing with the pandemic. She also lauds India’s role in supporting countries in the South-East Asian Region and beyond, providing essential medical supplies and now vaccines, to protect the vulnerable populations against the pandemic.

“The outlay of ₹64,180 crore for healthcare cover for next five years, to be spent on strengthening primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare systems, in addition to the National Health Mission, will strengthen the rural and urban centres. Integrated public health labs in each district will create a network across the country for quick response,” Khetrapal Singh argues.

The pharma industry, too, is going to gain through the ripple effects of investment in healthcare infrastructure. “The Budget addresses the gaps in rural and urban healthcare that the pandemic exposed with the ‘PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana’ in addition to the National Health Mission. Along with the emphasis on nutrition, clean water, and clean environment, this will bolster health infrastructure and reach across India. The pharma industry is ready to contribute towards fortifying the health of the nation,” says Nikhil Chopra, CEO and whole-time director, J B Chemicals & Pharmaceutical.

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