The government has been drawing flak from the medical community for its policy of subjecting life-saving medical equipment and drugs to the taxman’s overkill. But the finance minister has now thankfully hinted that the policy might be reviewed. In fact, such commodities should have merited a special treatment from faster customs clearance to reduced tax tag. Dialysis machine, for example, is one such equipment which is in great demand but not all of the private hospitals can afford it, thanks to stiff tax regime. Similarly, there are life-saving drugs which have now been subjected to stringent customs screening and taxation. The medicines are made to wait jeopardising the patients’ life. A hindrance such as this is a damper to better and efficient health services. For example, there are only 11 dialysis machines to take care of about 10,000 people in need. Even so, not all of the machines are in a functional-state. The cost of availing the services is awfully high which automatically debars the poor from availing it. So why punish the suffering by levying a tax on such essential equipment? It is exorbitantly expensive in the first place. To delay lifting the tax on goods like this is tantamount to punishing the poor.
Any leeway the government grants in importing such equipment, however, is no licence for the unscrupulous to label anything and everything as life-saving to evade taxation. It is for the government to beef up vigil before providing clearance to the said items. But any policy that delays an extremely vital service is an obstacle. It is high time the government considered the waiver of sorts on tax imposed on important health equipment and medicines. It has to be acknowledged that the Ministry of Health is being overwhelmed by a range of diseases that it has to deal with. Ailments ranging from what is preventable (diarrhoea) to the most dreaded one (AIDS, cancer and several strains of Hepatitis) are in fact major maladies which the Ministry has been trying to contain. AIDS is spreading like wildfire. But no less is the scourge of Hepatitis. Screening pregnant women and vaccinating newborns is one sure way of checking its spread, for which, the government needs to step up its efforts through awareness
campaigns besides the immunisation programmes. Though worrisome, the AIDS scare alone must not cast a shadow over other health issues. Tuberculosis too is a big menace. Clean drinking water is scarce and it equally is a health hazard. The fight against diseases is everybody’s responsibility. Hence, any help other wings of the government can extend to prop the health sector is always welcome. Lifting of import duties from life-saving drugs and equipment is one such step.