The budget for the National Health Mission has been cut down to Rs 36,785 crore this year from Rs 37,165 crore in 2022-’23, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her Budget speech on Wednesday.

The National Health Mission is an umbrella programme to monitor various programmes to control diseases and lifestyle problems like cancer, mental health, diabetes, hypertension,

Meanwhile, the budget outlay estimate for the health sector has been increased this year to Rs 88,956 crore from Rs 86,606 crore in 2022-’23. The revised estimates for 2022-’23, however, has dipped to Rs 77,351 crore.

In her speech, Sitharaman announced that the government was planning to launch a sickle cell anaemia elimination programme aimed at eliminating the disease by 2047.

Sickle cell anaemia is a hereditary blood disorder that affects the red blood cell production, turning it into sickle shape, and can lead to death if not treated. The treatment for the disease is generally lifelong.

Under the new programme, the government will raise awareness, hold universal screening of seven crore citizens aged between 0-40 years in tribal areas as well as conduct counselling of diagnosed cases.

The current sickle cell programme is marred by an acute shortage of diagnostic kits leading to low rates of new case detection and poor treatment support to diagnosed patients.

Sitharaman also announced that 157 new nursing colleges will be established. Since 2014, the government has started 157 medical colleges, she added.

The government is also planning to start a new pharma programme to promote research and development and training programmes through centres of excellence to create skilled manpower in the R&D sector for the medical device industry.

Experts have said the budget falls short of a major boost in the health sector.

Association of India Medical Device Industry member Rajiv Nath described it as “disappointing budget”.

“The government has not announced any measures to help end the 80-85% import dependence forced upon India and an ever increasing import bill of over Rs 63,200 crore,” Nath said referring to the medical device sector.

He added: “The only positive announcement was plans for skilling of manpower for manufacturing of medical technologies.”

Former Health ministry Secretary K Sujatha Rao’ called the budget the “most boring” one in terms for the health sector.

“Barring setting up 157 nursing colleges nothing else for health that is crying for huge capital investment and some financial risk protection for the lower middle classes,” she added. “Yet another year gone by. Very disappointing.”