States of health: On NITI Aayog’s first Health Index
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Unsurprisingly, States with a record of investment in literacy, nutrition and primary health care have achieved high scores in NITI Aayog’s first Health Index. Kerala, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu are the best-performing large States, while Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh bring up the rear. Health-care delivery is the responsibility of States; the Centre provides financial and policy support. Being able to meet the Sustainable (able to be maintained at a certain rate or level) Development Goals over the coming decade depends crucially on the States’ performance. Yet, health care is not a mainstream political issue in India, and hardly influences electoral results. The Index, with all its limitations given uneven data availability, hopes to make a difference here by encouraging a competitive approach for potentially better outcomes.
For instance, with political will, it should be possible for Odisha to bring down its neonatal (relating to newborn children (or other mammals)) mortality rate, estimated to be the highest at 35 per thousand live births — worse than Uttar Pradesh. A dozen States with shameful under-five mortality rates of over 35 per 1,000 live births may feel the need for remedial (giving or intended as a remedy or cure) programmes. What the Index shows for the better-performing States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu is that their continuous improvements have, overall, left little room to notch up (score or achieve (something)) high incremental scores, but intra-State inequalities need to be addressed.
Coming soon after the announcement of a National Health Protection Scheme in the Union Budget, the Index uses metrics such as institutional deliveries, systematic reporting of tuberculosis, access to drugs for people with HIV/AIDS, immunisation levels and out-of-pocket expenditure. The twin imperatives (a factor or influence making something necessary) are to improve access to facilities and treatments on these and other parameters, and raise the quality of data, including from the private sector, to enable rigorous (extremely thorough and careful) assessments (evaluation ; judgement). At the same time, as NITI Aayog points out, data on other key aspects such as non-communicable diseases, mental health, governance systems and financial risk protection lack the integrity to form part of a good composite index.