Coronavirus: Pakistan to double healthcare spending in 2020 budget

Coronavirus: Pakistan to double healthcare spending in 2020 budget

Pakistan vowed to double healthcare spending Friday in a new budget that was unveiled by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling party.

The new budget dramatically slashed other expenditures with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy.

To a chorus of boos from the opposition, the government announced plans to cut the overall budget by 11 percent compared with last year, as revenues dried up and deficits soared in the impoverished nation.

“We have prepared this budget keeping the coronavirus pandemic in mind,” said Hammad Azhar, the minister of planning and industries, during a speech to the lower house of parliament.

Pakistan’s economy was already on life support before officials began shuttering large segments of the economy in March as an array of lockdown measures were rolled out to fight the coronavirus spread.

The country has since called for debt forgiveness from international donors and the IMF as tax revenues cratered, inflation soared, the currency was devalued, and fiscal deficits widened.

“It is difficult to say anything with certainty about the coronavirus’s impact … but there is no doubt that our GDP — which we thought could grow around 3 percent — will now go down by around 0.4 percent,” Azhar told parliamentarians.

Pakistan has struggled for decades to collect sufficient taxes, piling pressure on successive governments over the decades to provide ample funding for the country’s ailing healthcare and education sectors.

Estimates suggest that only around one percent of the 200 million population filed a return in 2018.

The unveiling of the budget came just days after the World Health Organization called on Pakistan to implement “intermittent” lockdowns to counter a surge in coronavirus infections that has come as the country loosened restrictions in recent weeks.

Khan has repeatedly lambasted the lockdown measures, saying the moves are disproportionately hitting the poor who are unable to absorb the economic damage.

Hospitals across Pakistan, however, say they are at or near capacity, and some are turning COVID-19 patients away.

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