The Department of Health Research (DHR) was established as a separate department under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2007. It became fully functional from November 2008 with the appointment of its first secretary. The objective of DHR is to introduce modern health technologies to the population through research and innovations related to diagnosis, treatment methods and vaccines for prevention. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) comes under the general scope of DHR.
However, funding for this crucial department has been erratic. India’s health research budget is very small. The total US health research budget is 2.2% of GDP. In the United Kingdom, it represents 1.7% of GDP. In India, it represents only 0.02% of the GDP, whereas it should represent approximately 5% of the health budget, taking into account the size of the Indian population and the challenges to be met.
On the other hand, there is the problem of the capacity of the current infrastructure to absorb higher levels of financing. The department’s projected demand is a far cry from 5% of the total health budget (Rs 83,000 crore in the 2022-23 budget forecast).
Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health heard evidence and recommended in its report on this year’s budget session that branches of the Department of Health Research, including the ICMR, be strengthened. He acknowledged ICMR’s work on finding vaccines against epidemics such as Nipah and Zika viruses, and more recently Covid-19, but stressed the need to expand the systematic outreach of ICMR and its agencies.