Australia, US, Japan in Indo-Pacific infrastructure push

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media in Sydney, Australia, in this July 19, 2018 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 31 July 2018
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Australia, US, Japan in Indo-Pacific infrastructure push

SYDNEY: Australia, the United States and Japan will jointly invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific, officials announced Tuesday, in an attempt to counter China’s efforts to court influence in the region.
Beijing has loaned countries across Asia billions of dollars as part of its “Belt and Road” development strategy, including to island nations in the Pacific, a region Canberra views as its backyard.
The Australian government has raised fears in recent months that some small Pacific nations might get trapped with unsustainable debts, handing Beijing influence.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the trilateral partnership would “mobilize investment in projects that drive economic growth, create opportunities, and foster a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
“We share the belief that good investments stem from transparency, open competition, sustainability, adhering to robust global standards, employing the local workforce, and avoiding unsustainable debt burdens.”
She said Australia’s foreign affairs department (DFAT), the US’ Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation were developing a framework of cooperation.
Bishop did not name China in her announcement, but Canberra has been critical of Beijing’s Pacific “soft diplomacy” push and has refocused its aid programs to win hearts and minds in the island nations.
Australia last month said it will negotiate a security treaty with Vanuatu and would also fund and build an underseas communications cable to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
China’s role in the region is set to be high on the agenda at the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum annual meeting in Nauru in September.
Earlier this month China announced it was planning a first-ever summit between President Xi Jinping and Pacific Island leaders ahead of this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Papua New Guinea.


India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

Updated 32 min 8 sec ago
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India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

  •  “Modicare” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to half a billion people
  • The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a mega health care scheme, touted as the world’s biggest public health scheme, on Sunday in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 

The National Health Protection Scheme, popularly known as “Modicare,” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to 100 million families or 500 million people, accounting for around 41 percent of people who fall below the poverty line.

 “The aim is to provide medical care to the people standing at the very margin of society. It has been a dream to provide health care to the needy and that dream is coming true today,” Modi said in a speech after inaugurating the scheme.

 “This is the first time in the world that a health care program is being launched where an individual will have an insurance cover of 5 lakh rupees ($7,000).”

The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India.

The intervention is meant to take the burden off the government hospitals and bring the expensive private hospitals within the reach of poor people.

For Ganesh Yadav, a daily wage earner, the “Ayushman Bharat Yojna,” as the program is officially called, is “a good move by the government if it really works.

 “Last year I spent more than 50,000 rupees ($720) in getting a kidney stone removed in a private hospital and I am still struggling to pay back the debt that I incurred. If the Modicare really works then poor people like me will not have to worry about the expenses in health care,” said Yadav, who lives in Noida, a satellite town of Delhi.

But one doctor raises doubts about the success of the program.

“An earlier health scheme also had the provision for insurance cover but the out-of-cost expenses of the poor people could not come down. There is a lack of clarity on this issue in the new scheme as well,” says Dr. Shakil, a cardiologist based in Patna, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
 
Talking to Arab News, he asks: “How will you identify the real beneficiaries? Besides, the scheme will not build public health infrastructure but give benefit to the private players, which I think is the real drawback of this policy.
 
“The government is in a hurry to launch the scheme and not many preparations have gone into it before inaugurating it.”

Economist Venkat Narayana questions the budgetary provisions for the scheme. “Under the scheme 60 percent of expenses would be borne by the central government and 40 percent by the state government. But the poorer states cannot afford the huge sums involved in the expenditure,” says Narayana, who also runs NGOs for poor people in Warangal district in the South Indian state of Telangana.

“My experience suggests that such a program does not address the real health care needs of the people living in villages and smaller cities. The money that the government plans to spend on insurance can be spent in expanding and enriching the medical infrastructure across the country.”

But Nirala, a political activist associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, feels that “this is a visionary intervention in the health care system of the country.

“Modi has tried to address the gap that exists in medical system of the country by bringing private hospitals within the reach of the poor masses,” he told Arab News.

Political analyst Pawan Pratyay, however, feels that Prime Minister Modi "has played a big political gamble in the election year by launching this attractive looking and sounding health care policy.

“The government has been cutting the health budget year after year. By bringing this pro-poor scheme Modi wants to change the pro-rich image that he has acquired over the years and attract the voters from the economically marginalized demography.”