India, ADB sign $300 bn loan to improve access to healthcare in urban areas of 13 states

New Delhi, Nov 24 (PTI): Government of India and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have signed a USD 300 million loan to strengthen and improve access to comprehensive primary healthcare in urban areas of 13 states benefiting over 256 million urban dwellers, including 51 million from slum areas, a statement said on Wednesday. The loan agreement was signed on Tuesday, the statement issued by the Health Ministry stated.

Rajat Kumar Mishra, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Finance, signed for Government of India the agreement for strengthening comprehensive primary healthcare and pandemic preparedness in urban areas programme, while Takeo Konishi, Country Director of ADB’s India Resident Mission, signed for the ADB, it said.

After signing the loan agreement, Mishra said the programme supports Government of India’s key health initiatives by expanding availability and access to quality primary healthcare services particularly for vulnerable populations in urban areas, the statement said.

It supports initiatives like Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWC) and Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana (PM-ASBY), which has been renamed Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission (PM-ABHIM). The Ayushman Bharat programme, launched in 2018, aims to improve access to comprehensive primary healthcare as a key strategy to achieve universal health coverage in India.

With the spread of coronavirus pandemic, which put additional pressure on the country’s health system, the government launched PM-ASBY in October 2021 to adopt a long-term approach to system strengthening to prepare for future pandemics and other emergencies.

“Ensuring equitable access to non-COVID-19 primary healthcare is critical amid challenges posed by the pandemic to India’s health system,” said Konishi.

The programme complements the government’s efforts to bridge healthcare gaps by strengthening institutional capacity, operation, and management of urban health and wellness centres at central, state, and municipal levels, it said.

The programme will be implemented in urban areas across Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and West Bengal.

Beside the pandemic response, interventions through the programme promote increased utilisation of urban HWCs with provision of comprehensive primary healthcare packages, including noncommunicable diseases and community outreach services such as awareness raising activities on healthcare options, particularly for women, the statement said.

Delivery and health information systems for primary healthcare will be upgraded through digital tools, quality assurance mechanisms and engagement and partnership with the private sector, it said.

The programme is supported by a USD 2 million technical assistance grant from ADB’s Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction to provide support for programme implementation and coordination, capacity building, innovation, knowledge sharing and application of scalable best practices across the healthcare system, the statement said.