From reducing out-of-pocket medical expenses to increasing the Centre’s health-spends and ensuring affordable drugs and diagnostics, an 18-point people’s health manifesto from the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), called on political parties to focus on rebuilding health systems in the country.

In the run-up to the general elections, JSA said, “After the Covid-19 experience, it was expected that the government will prioritise health and increase spending in the sector. However, it is unfortunate that the Union government has reduced spending on health from 0.37 per cent in 2020-21 to 0.29 per cent in 2024-25.” JSA is a coalition of health activists, experts, and organisations and its manifesto was labelled, “Our Health, Our Right!”

“India’s public spending on health is among the lowest in the world. Per capita government spending is $25 in India, while Thailand spends $256 (10 times), China spends $363 (15 times), and Sri Lanka spends $77 (3 times),” the JSA said. India also fares badly in terms of out-of-pocket expenditure, JSA said, adding, “More than half the money spent on health comes from patients and their families.”

It called for the enactment of a Right to Healthcare legislation at the State level, supported by making healthcare a fundamental right at the Centre to guarantee the availability of free quality treatment for all conditions, close to people’s residences. The manifesto stressed the importance of preventing denial, delay, and incomplete treatment.

The manifesto called for the filling up of vacant posts in health facilities and ensuring that health workers - scheme-based and contractual staff – were regularised. It also called for reversal of rebranding health and wellness centres as ‘Arogya Mandirs’, aligning with “constitutional values of secularism and inclusivity.”

Calling for the implementation of rational price control measures, it said, “Many States in India provide a good model to do so and that should be scaled up to the entire country with active support from the Central government.”

Universal healthcare

Richa Chintan, national co-convener of JSA called on political parties and policymakers to prioritise these recommendations to ensure the right to health for every individual. Sarojini N. of JSA added, “Government should regularise ASHA, ANM, and anganwadi workers and provide them proper wages.”

JSA’s Indranil pointed out that healthcare is fundamentally the responsibility of the government. “We call for the phase out of government-funded health insurance schemes and public-private partnerships. Resources should be redirected towards strengthening public healthcare systems and ensuring universal access to quality care.”

Access to quality and affordable drugs was “non-negotiable”, said Harishankar Singh of Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+). “Implementing effective price control measures, returning to cost-based pricing, and ensuring availability of medicines as per the NLEM 2022 are critical steps towards achieving equitable healthcare for all,” he said.