India's health budget has gone up by nearly Rs.4,000 crore to Rs.21,113.33 crore ($4.35 billion) with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee Monday giving special emphasis to the rural healthcare. The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) that aims to provide quality healthcare to villagers Monday saw its budget allocation increase by Rs.2,057 crore. Describing the NRHM as an "essential instrument for achieving goal of health for all", Mukherjee in his budget speech proposed "an increase of Rs.2,057 crore over and above Rs.12,070 crore provided in the interim budget" he had presented before the general elections earlier this year. The flagship programme of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the NRHM was launched in 2005. The aim was to improve availability and access to quality healthcare for people living in remote areas. The main focus is on 18 states that have weak public health infrastructure - Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Orissa, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. Hoping to strengthen the tertiary sector, the government is setting up six All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)-like institutions in the country and upgrading 13 existing medical colleges. While the upgradation is likely to be completed in the current year, the six institutions are likely to be operationalised by 2010-11, says the plan outlay of the union budget. For this project, Rs.1,447.92 crore has been earmarked. Aimed at correcting the regional imbalance in the availability of affordable and reliable healthcare services, the project envisages setting up AIIMS prototypes in Patna (Bihar), Raipur (Chhattisgarh), Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), Bhubaneswar (Orissa), Jodhpur (Rajasthan) and Rishikesh (Uttarakhand). The union budget has also allocated Rs.10 crore for the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Deafness (NPPCD). The pilot phase is being launched in 25 districts in the next two years and aims to prevent avoidable hearing loss and ensure early identification, diagnosis and treatment of ear problems responsible for hearing loss and deafness. The budget also allotted Rs.100 crore for kickstarting medical, non-medical and nursing courses in institutions under the health ministry for accommodating 27 percent reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC). In its bid to develop, promote and make the Indian systems of medicines more scientific, the department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) under the health ministry was allocated Rs.734 crore. The finance minister in his 2009-10 budget also increased by 40 percent the allocation for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the health insurance plan that was launched last year. "More than 46 lakh BPL (below poverty line) families in 18 states and UTs (union territories) have been issued biometric smart cards" for the scheme, the finance minister said in his speech. He said this scheme "empowers poor families by giving them freedom of choice for using healthcare services from an extensive list of hospitals including private hospitals". "Government proposes to bring all BPL families under this scheme. An amount of Rs.350 crore, marking 40 percent increase over the previous allocation, is being provided in 2009-10 budget estimates," Mukherjee added.