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Election manifestos need to demonstrate political will and commitment to safeguarding women’s health and rights: Pratigya Campaign

The organisation claims that election manifestos in the past have largely failed to incorporate the critical component of public health, focusing, if at all, on insurance-based initiatives alone

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Delhi-based Pratigya campaign — a network of individuals and organisations that works on issues of women’s empowerment and enables women’s access to healthcare services, has urged the political parties at the forefront to demonstrate their commitment to prioritising universal access to quality health services, and increasing the overall budgetary allocations for public health by at least twice the current allocation. While 2.2 per cent of the latest total interim budget is allocated to healthcare, there is an immediate need to increase the allocation for health to at least five per cent of the country’s annual budget.

The organisation, in a statement, said, “The current spending on public health is 1.15-1.5 per cent of the GDP, despite the government stating its ambition to increase it to 2.5 per cent. We seek an immediate increase in the health expenditure to 3.5 per cent of the GDP. There is also a need to increase investments in sexual and reproductive health in general and contraceptive and safe abortion access, in particular.”

Pratigya claimed that election manifestos in the past have largely failed to incorporate the critical component of public health, focusing, if at all, on insurance-based initiatives alone. India is a country with large swathes of population that are poor, vulnerable, and in need for better access to consistent and equitable public health information and services. Recent studies have shown that India lags behind several countries including Sri Lanka on its expenditure on health, it is time we reaffirm our commitment to preserving the health of the people in the country.

Recent reports have shown that there is a high unmet need for contraception and abortion in the country today. 21.3% eligible couples have an unmet need for both limiting and spacing methods of family planning. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) – IV revealed that over 30 million married women in the reproductive age group were unable to access contraception. This does not even take into consideration the unmet need of contraception among unmarried women and girls. On abortion, government data suggest that only 700,000 abortions take place in medical facilities, and a recent study by The Lancet showed that 73 per cent of the 15 million abortions in India take place outside medical facilities. In terms of the doctor-patient ratio, a study by Ipas Development Foundation demonstrated that there is only one licensed abortion provider for 224,000 women in rural areas in the country.

The Pratigya Campaign has asked for ensuring access to quality reproductive health services that are voluntary and non-coercive; ensuring availability of reproductive health information, services and infrastructure; inclusion of youth in policy-framing to adequately address their SRH needs; increasing investment in reproductive health; complete utilisation of budget allocated for reproductive health; and preserving the reproductive rights of women.

Some immediate measures that must be implemented are the passing of the amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act that will enhance access to safe abortion services, revoking two-child norms across the country that prevent individuals with more than two children from contesting local body elections. A two-child norm is regressive, discriminative, misplaced and in violation of individual rights and choices, considering that all but seven states in India have already achieved the replacement level of fertility of 2.1, even as the national estimate is currently at 2.3 and falling rapidly below replacement levels of TFR, the statement said.

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