NEW DELHI: At a time when the country is looking at the steadily swelling the number of coronavirus infections, a parliamentary standing committee on health has pulled up the Centre for not allocating sufficient funds to the Department of Health Research (DHR) to carry out in-depth research activities for treatment and containment of the health crises like the present one.
A top health ministry official, in his submission to the committee, conceded that the funds allocated for research initiatives for emerging pathogens like coronavirus require high-end diagnostics and treatment, for which adequate fund is not available.
The committee’s report was laid in Parliament last week.
In the context of the growing cases of infection in India, the committee had in February asked the DHR under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for details of the measures undertaken to combat the threat of infection spread in India and whether any research project had been undertaken for its treatment.
In his presentation to the committee, Dr Balram Bhargava, Secretary, DHR, said the budgetary allocation of Rs 2,800 to the department constitute approximately 3% of the total health budget. The governing council of NITI Aayog has recommended allocation an allocation of at least 5% of the health budget to DHR.
“National biosecurity is a burning issue nowadays which requires the immediate attention of the government,” his submission said.
“Enhanced budgetary all is all the more necessary to implement a programme and (there is) need for in-depth research and investigation on emergence or re-emergence of WHO’s blueprint viruses that require high-end diagnostics, high-end treatment...”
Commenting on this, the 31-member committee said that since health research was vital to make the country disease-free, expenditure on it should be at least 10% of the overall health budget.
Public health experts said that for India to be on top of science, health research needed more attention. “Health research budget in the country has been sub-optimal and though India is supposed to respond to a global public health emergency like this one, it can’t happen overnight unless there is a robust system in place,” said Oommen John, senior health researcher with the George Institute of Global Health, New Delhi.
He pointed out that the genome sequencing of the virus from the coronavirus extracted from two patients in India looks different from Wuhan coronavirus, demanding a more localised response to the infection in the country.
A senior virologist who did not wish to be named said the government’s apathy towards investing in developing treatment and diagnostic methods could cost the country billions of dollars.
“The disruptions and losses the country could face now could be avoided to a great extent if we are better equipped to face it,” he said.