India Unveils Largest Health Care System in History, First Manned Space Mission

India has long been touted as a potential superpower. To that end, it is taking a few bold moves into that direction.

During a speech marking the country’s independence day, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced that the government will begin providing health coverage to its poorest citizens starting September 25th. As Newsweek reported:

The National Health Protection Mission—also known as “Modicare”—will give impoverished families health insurance coverage of up to $7,100 every year. This may not seem a lot by American standards, but in a country where the annual per capita income is just over $1,900, it will make a massive difference to those who cannot afford private treatment.

[…]

Medical costs are one of the primary causes of poverty in India. Around 63 million Indians fall into poverty each year because of health care bills, and 70 percent of all charges are paid directly by patients.

As India looks to become an economic superpower rivaling the U.S. and China, crippling health care costs and preventable illnesses and deaths are significant problems. Average life expectancy in India is 69, significantly below China, at 76, and the U.S., at 79. The mortality rate for children under 5 is 43 per 100,000, and in 2015 1.2 million children died of preventable diseases.

To put the scale of this program in perspective, India is promising to improve access to quality healthcare to a population larger than South America (and even more impoverished and diverse). Thus it will remain to be seen how successful this initiative will be in the long term.

Nevertheless, it is certainly a step in the right direction, especially since India spends far less on healthcare proportionally than its neighbors: just one percent of GDP, which is nearly one-tenth that of the Maldives, one-third of China, and slightly less than Nepal and Sri Lanka (at 1.1 and 1.6 percent, respectively). From a strategic perspective, a healthier populace makes for a more productive workforce, not to mention boosting the political and moral legitimacy of the government. (It certainly helps that the vast majority of beneficiaries are concentrated in the rural areas that are key voting bloc.)

As if that were not an ambitious and worthy enough goal, Modi announced in the same speech that India plans to launch its first citizen into space in 2022, to coincide with its 75th anniversary of independence.

India will send into space — a man or a woman — by 2022, before that if possible,” Modi said, adding that the chosen astronaut would be “carrying the national flag.”

[…]

If successful, India would become the fourth nation to send a person into space, after Russia, the US and China. At present, only Russia and China have the capability to put a human in space. The US is expected to join them soon with the help of its commercial crew program.

Modi’s pledge sets an ambitious target date for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to send humans into space. But the agency’s head appears optimistic about the deadline. “We can achieve the 2022 target that the prime minister has announced,” Kailasavadivoo Sivan, the ISRO chairman, told DW.

“Everything will fall into place. We have a crew module, the crew escape system has been tested this year, and we have a launch vehicle. I do not think much more is needed as far as the technology is concerned,” he added.

The Indian manned mission will likely involve sending crew members into low Earth orbit for five to seven days, using an indigenous Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV-III). ISRO is expected to complete two unmanned missions before embarking on a manned space flight. ISRO estimates the mission will cost around 10,000 crore rupees ($1.42 billion, €1.25 billion).

“It’s doable because India has already been testing various technologies way back since 2004,” Ajey Lele, senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, a New Delhi-based think tank, told DW.

Indeed, India already punches well above its weight in aerospace endeavors. Like its massive healthcare plan, this is a tough sell that may never pan out, but by no means is it impossible — especially for a country with as much talent, resources, and potential as India.

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