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Ayushman Bharat and Primary Healthcare: How Amartya Sen Spreads A Falsehood

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In a short span of five months, Ayushman Bharat has benefitted more than 13 lakh people. There are numerous stories about how the scheme has been bringing smiles on the faces of the poor. To name some success stories, a 32-year-old Indu Devi from Vaishali, Patna gets free treatment for a rare Spleen cancer, and a 51-year-old man recovers from a fracture of the femur, the strongest bone in the body through a complicated procedure known as Hip Bipolar Hemiarthroplasty at AIIMS Patna. Nevertheless, it seems that sections of the elite will find one or the other false reasons to run down Ayushman Bharat. A couple of days ago, Economist Amartya Sen has said that the Ayushman Bharat neglects primary healthcare, according to the media reports.

There were similar efforts of false propaganda on Ayushman Bharat earlier which we busted. You may read our articles ‘Economist’ From Sonia Gandhi’s NAC Uses Logically Flawed Narrative to Run Down Ayushman Bharat and Rahul Gandhi’s Dubious Math on Ayushman Bharat And Rafale. Amartya Sen’s dissing of Ayushman Bharat also deserves to be put in this category. We explain why.

Amartya Sen’s Contention

Why Amartya Sen has termed Ayushman Bharat “the biggest example of a leap in the wrong direction”?

The report in the Financial Expresss provides a context as it reads:

“Since the Ayushman Bharat scheme neglects primary healthcare, it thus aims at wrong population, Amartya Sen said in an event. He instead recommends the government to boost immunity and health of infants and children through better dietary supplements at the primary healthcare level.”

According to a report in ‘The Telegraph’, Amartya Sen seems to be suggesting that the programme allocates money only for ‘special treatment needs’. He was quoted as saying,

“The main problems are the primary healthcare system, the primary education system. The money that will go into Ayushman or the RSBY, will usually be allocated for special treatment needs, what people go to hospitals for, even private hospitals, sometimes. Those expenses will be given by the government. The result is the other things are overlooked and the focus is on these deficiencies.”

Why Amartya Sen is Wrong on Ayushman Bharat?

Being an economist and a Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen is expected to speak with facts instead of passing a generalised comment on any issue. Here is how Amartya Sen is wrong on many counts.

  • The government has taken care of the primary healthcare under Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) as well as other initiatives.
  • PMJAY works towards the creation of 1,50,000 Health and Wellness Centres (HWC)which will bring health care closer to the homes of the people.
  • These centers will provide Comprehensive Primary Health Care (CPHC), covering both maternal and child health services and non-communicable diseases, including free essential drugs and diagnostic services.
  • The first HWC under Ayushman Bharat was inaugurated by Prime Minister on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti (April 14, 2018) at Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district.  

So, the very premise of Amartya Sen’s argument that Ayushman Bharat neglects the primary health care is far from being true.

The vision of Ayushman Bharat is clearly visible by the fact that it wishes to address Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD), which are major concerns as the youth in today’s age are more prone to ailments such as heart diseases, diabetes etc. In fact, in January 2015, World Health Organisation had said that India is the first country to develop specific national targets and indicators aimed at reducing the number of global premature deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025.

Amartya Sen ignores all such relevant facts while passing the judgment that India is doing hardly anything to address primary healthcare.

Beyond Ayushman Bharat: Immunisation and Child Care

Amartya Sen should take into account the progress of programmes such as Mission Indradhanush which have achieved considerable outcomes, when he talks about boosting immunities and health of infants.

  • Under Mission Indradhanush, 3.38 crore children vaccinated and 86.88 lakh pregnant females immunized.
  • Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan is ensuring good health of mother and child with more than 1.7 crore antenatal check-ups conducted and 8 lakh high-risk pregnancies identified.

If Amartya Sen is of the opinion that the issue of preventive healthcare is not being addressed, he needs to look at it from another standpoint:  the staggering number of more than 6 crore LPG cylinders distributed to women relieving them from indoor pollution, ensures enormous health benefits to them and their families. Over 9 crore household toilets built in these five years also contribute to preventive healthcare by taking care of basic sanitation and preventing the spread of diseases. Then popularisation of Yoga has been contributing to building a healthy and fit society.

So, Amartya Sen has been way off the mark while blaming this government on the negligence of primary healthcare. Facts are clearly not backing his claims.

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