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    SPAG’s Public Affairs Practice writes about what the election season means for public health in India.

    As India undergoes its largest democratic exercise in the 17th Lok Sabha elections, healthcare took a centre-stage in the election campaigns of most of the political parties. To understand the nature of the election campaigns it is important to take cognisance of the fact that, voter aspirations and voting patterns determine the agendas of the political parties and the actions of the governments that come in power.

    The All India Survey on Governance Issues and Voting Behaviour 2018 shows that, “better healthcare” is among the top three priorities along with “better employment” opportunities and “better education” for voters in all the 534 parliamentary constituencies of the country. The survey also unfolds concerning reality that factors impacting the voting behaviour of the people have no correlation with their aspirations. When it comes to choosing their representatives, voters are influenced by various other factors like the “popularity of the candidate, caste, religion and party of the candidate” among others.

    This mismatch of aspiration and factors influencing voting behaviour showcases misplaced priorities amongst the voters where an average voter trades off better healthcare system for a leader on the basis of socio-political factors. This also translates into populist promises on public health by the various political parties. Most of the propositions are of the macro-level which are not specific and affect large number of people and it is largely unclear whether budgetary provisions will suffice for these policies.

    For instance- the grand old party-Congress promised the “right to health” as a legal and justiciable right in five years by enacting ‘Healthcare Act’ which is an impossible goal to achieve in a short term of five years until and unless enough finances are allocated for public health and the healthcare ecosystem is strengthened. On the other hand, BJP did not make any clear commitment regarding increased spending on health despite a clear consensus of various committees on increasing the health spending. The entire focus and allocation of budget was on the implementation of Ayushman Bharat scheme. However, the scheme seemed to be politically charged and motivated as the allocation of the funds was not evidence-based. As public health experts have predicted, this might lead to a cut down in the budgets of other health programmes and research activities. Similarly, the CPI(M) manifesto, although inclusive in nature, is far from the realities of the Indian budget. It proposes 5% of the GDP for health but fails to articulate where and how this amount will distributed.

    Looking at the election campaigns, one might assume that all the parties have taken cognisance of the importance of public health and will be working on the public health needs on priority, if they get elected. However, one needs to dig deeper to understand whether the present healthcare ecosystem has the required precursors to drive the transformation in the next five years, as the political parties have promised. Until and unless there is a public awareness created on the public health issues, political parties will not make it a priority and ensure evidence-based policy action targeted at improvement of the public health ecosystem of the country. Therefore, there is a need for creating more awareness and sensitization amongst the voters regarding the nuances of the public health system so that it can translate into political pressure for timely action on public health issues.

    About SPAG SPAG is an award-winning independent communications agency with focus on life sciences and development sector and operations across South East Asia. Headquartered in Singapore, SPAG is reputed for offering bespoke communication strategies to shape conversations, influence perceptions, cultivate constructive knowledge and to keep the dialogue going. We have been recognized as the Mid-Size Agency of the Year by ET Brand Equity Kaleido Awards in 2019, featured amongst top 3 agencies in 2018 and won Asia Pacific Healthcare Consultancy of the Year by SABRE Awards in 2017. SPAG is part of the Strategic Partners Group, an integrated communications entity, harnessing the potential of a phenomenally diverse universe of conversations. Integrated as a group, yet specialists at core, its domain expertise is institutionalized into distinct entities: SPAG – Public Relations & Advocacy, D Yellow Elephant – Digital & Social Media, GigaLife – Creative & Branding Solutions.