A package of Rs 20,000 crore for mitigating the second wave of COVID-19, wards for contagious diseases at all levels of healthcare facilities were the highlights of the maiden Budget of the second Pinarayi Vijayan government for the health sector in Kerala. Presenting the Budget in the Assembly on June 4, Finance Minister KN Balagopal said, “A second COVID package of Rs 20,000 crore is announced to face the socio-economic and health challenges that are emerging in the backdrop of the second wave. Through this package, Rs 2,800 crore will be spent towards facing the health emergency situation, Rs 8,900 crore for disbursing money directly to those who are in crisis due to the loss of livelihood and Rs 8,300 crore towards interest subsidy for loans provided for economic rejuvenation."
This is the maiden Budget of Balagopal as he replaced his party colleague Thomas Issac as Finance Minister in the incumbent Pinarayi Vijayan government, which assumed charge on May 20. "The economy can be revived only by reducing the impact of the second wave and preventing a third wave of the pandemic. We are compelled to take a firm stance. Health above all or health first, is our vision of development. In essence, the strategy for effective healthcare has become our strategy for development in this Budget," Balagopal said. "While presenting the previous Budget (by then Finance Minister Thomas in the first Pinarayi Vijayan government), there was an impression that the COVID-19 pandemic was under control. But the emergence of the second wave of COVID-19 has upset all these calculations. The impact of the second wave needs to be minimised. We should prevent the onset of the third wave utilising all our strengths and capabilities," he added.
The Budget has allocated Rs 1000 crore for providing vaccines to persons aged over 18 and Rs 500 crore for the purchase of allied equipment. The government also announced six new initiatives as part of the Budget. It said that it will set up ten-bed wards for contagious diseases in all Community Health Centers (CHCs), taluk, district and general hospitals at a cost of Rs 1.75 crore, along with an additional Rs 1.25 crore allocated for renovation of old buildings. It has also been planned to convert existing ‘Autoclave Rooms’ in taluk, district, and general hospitals into Central Sterile Supply Departments (CSSDs). This upgrade will reduce nosocomial infections and improve infection control in hospitals. Rs 18.75 crore is set apart for establishing 25 CSSDs this year.
A separate block will be established in every medical college for managing contagious diseases. These facilities will be effective for managing air-borne and highly contagious diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, and Nipah. Rs 50 crore has been earmarked to set up isolation blocks in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode Medical colleges, the government said. As a third wave is expected and emergency treatment facilities for children need to be strengthened, as a first step, the bed strength of pediatric Intensive Care Units will be enhanced, the government said. Pediatric ICU wards will be constructed in selected district hospitals and medical colleges and Rs 25 crore is earmarked for the initial phase.A Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) plant with 150 metric ton capacity will be set up and it will have 1000 metric ton reserve storage capacity and will be equipped with tankers for supply. Rs 25 crore has been set aside for preparing a detailed project report and as initial expenses, the tender will be floated for this by September 15 this year, the government said. Rs 50 lakh, has been set aside in the Budget, for conducting a feasibility study for an institute on the model of Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA for research and mitigation of contagious diseases has been allocated.