Increase budget for health research

India has made significant contributions to global medical research, particularly in the areas of vaccine development, tuberculosis research, and maternal and child health, despite its minuscule research budget. Many institutions and organisations are involved in conducting research across various fields of medicine, with AIIMS, ICMR, Tata Memorial Centre, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, and PGIMER, Chandigarh, leading the research undertaken in diverse areas such as clinical medicine, public health, biotechnology, genetics, and stem cell research. India has made significant contributions to global medical research, particularly in the areas of vaccine development, tuberculosis research, and maternal and child health. Additionally, India has emerged as a hub for clinical trials due to its large patient population, low cost of clinical trials, and well-developed healthcare infrastructure. There have been several significant breakthroughs in medical research in India in recent years, like the Rotavirus vaccine in 2013, highly effective in preventing severe diarrhoea in infants and young children; significant advances in developing new drugs and treatment regimens for MDR-TB (multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis); and genome sequencing, which involves mapping an individual’s DNA to identify genetic variations that may be associated with diseases, to name a few. Research stress should be on clinical medicine for new treatments, drug trials, and the diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and infectious diseases, as well as public health with a focus on research on health policies, disease prevention, and health education.
However, despite these strengths, India still faces several challenges in medical research, including inadequate funding, limited access to advanced research facilities, and a shortage of skilled researchers, as pointed out by a Parliamentary Committee. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the ICMR, the premier research institute in India, spent only Rs 1,300 crore for research purposes in 2022-2023. The budgetary allocation for the year 2023-24 of the Department of Health Research is only 3.34 per cent of the total health budget as against to 3.71 per cent in 2022-23, a significant reduction instead of a substantial increase. The committee rightly pointed out that India, being a developing country with a huge population below the poverty line, has a typical set of health challenges like ever-increasing communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases of hypertension, cancer, and severe malnutrition, as well as anaemia, to name a few, and not enough research is being done on these. The committee suggested that the ICMR should immediately work in coordination with leading Government and private medical colleges, encourage research at graduate levels, and provide funding to the talented bunch of undergraduate doctors who also show a knack for research work. Why should research be limited to a few institutions? Research work should be part of the class curriculum and has to be incentivized, like the few seats reserved for direct entry to PG courses for extraordinary research by undergraduate students. Interest has to be created, and extraordinary efforts are required from the ICMR, NMC, and Health Department. Since independence, the Government has invested mainly in atomic research, defence research, and space research, and India has performed exceptionally well in these fields, almost on par with developed countries. An insignificant health research budget is not much help to meet the challenges on the health front. Prevention is always better than cure, and without proper research, prevention is not possible. The COVID-19 vaccination development is a classic case. When pushed to the wall, Indian researchers rose to the occasion to develop a vaccine in record time, protecting not only Indians but exporting it to many countries to save precious lives. Nevertheless, the Indian Government and several private organisations are taking initiatives to overcome these challenges and promote medical research in the country. Substantial budget allocations can give medical research the much-needed impetus it needs and surely produce miraculous results.