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Budget 2024: Sitharaman turns focus on health of girls aged 9-14

NEW DELHI : Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman made only a slight increase in fund allocations for the ministries of health and family welfare, as well as women and child development in her interim budget for FY25.

But a key highlight of her budget speech in parliament was the government’s fresh focus on the health of young girls. Sitharaman said that the government will actively promote vaccination of girls aged 9-14 for prevention of cervical cancer. “Our government will encourage vaccination for girls in the age group of 9-14 years for prevention of cervical cancer,” she said.

In India, the Serum Institute India (SII) has come up with the country’s first indigenous HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, Cervavac, for protection against cervical cancer. Inclusion of this vaccine in the country’s immunization programme will potentially lower the cost of the drug.

“I applaud the Indian government’s announcement to vaccinate girls aged 9-14 against cervical cancer. Let’s pledge to prevent HPV and ensure easy access to vaccination,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Pune-based SII, wrote on social media platform X.

The government also announced extension of the flagship Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme to all ASHA and Anganwadi workers and helpers, besides upgrading and strengthening the POSHAN scheme under which children at government schools are given nutritious meals.

Sitharaman allocated 90,658 crore to the health ministry for FY25, an increase of just 1.68% from last year. The ministry for women and child development (WCD) has been allotted 26,092 crore, 2.53% higher from FY24. Mint had earlier reported on 22 January that the WCD ministry would be allotted 26,212 crore this time.

The ASHA and Anganwadi workers found a major space in the interim budget. The Centre announced upgrading Anganwadi centres under the Saksham Anganwadi Scheme and expediting of Poshan 2.0 for improvement of nutrition delivery, early childhood care and development. The budget provided 21,200 crore for WCD’s integrated Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 scheme. The scheme is targeted at tackling malnutrition challenges among children, adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Launched in 2018, the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojna (AB-PMJAY) is a flagship programme of the BJP-led government. The scheme has been allotted 7,500 crore, around 4% higher from last year.

Mint had earlier reported that schemes benefitting ASHA and anganwadi workers will be a priority. Anganwadi services come under the umbrella Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme of Mission Poshan category. The WCD ministry has divided their ongoing schemes in three major categories namely Mission Shakti, Mission Vatsalya and Mission Poshan.

“We are pleased that our needs are being given priority and that the efforts of ASHA and anganwadi workers are valued. Although we are grateful that the Centre is considering expanding Ayushman Bharat for us, there is still much to learn about how the program will be implemented and how it will help us. The majority of anganwadi and ASHA workers are unaware of how to sign up for the Ayushman Bharat scheme,” said Kavita, an ASHA worker from Delhi.

The Centre also announced that the newly-defined U-Win platform for managing immunization and intensified efforts for Mission Indradhanush will be rolled out expeditiously throughout the country.

Here’s your comprehensive 3-minute summary of all the things Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her Budget speech: Click to download!

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Published: 02 Feb 2024, 02:38 AM IST

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