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Before union budget’s cutback, State health budgets rose to 21 percent

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New Delhi: An analysis of government data released in October 2015 revealed that state health budgets, taken together– rose 21 percent in the previous year, before the 15 percent ‘cut’ in central funding of national health programs in the union health budget of 2015-16.

However, this increase is not uniform across states, indicating that states, especially smaller ones, unable to raise enough money, are spending less on health and education. Exactly how many states spent to compensate for central spending cutbacks over the past year is unclear because that data will only be available by the end of 2016.

As many as 58 per cent of Indians in rural areas opt for private healthcare (68 percent in urban areas), as we reported, because public health care is inadequate, and healthcare expenses push an additional 39 million people back into poverty every year, a Lancet paper said.

In anticipation of the transfer of money to states – a process called devolution, proposed in December 2014 by the 14th Finance Commission, Delhi had increased payments to state plans during the 2014-15 budget: Transfers rose by 108 percent to Rs 2,59,855 crore ($43 billion) for the state plans, according to reporters.

Many increases to states were substantial, particularly in key areas such as village development, education, health and agriculture. The idea, to quote from a government document, was to “provide greater ownership to state governments in implementation of plans schemes and avoid thin spreading of resources, model of restructured centrally sponsored schemes (CSSs) continues. Higher allocation under State/UT (union territory) plan is reflective of this”.

Between 2014-15 and 2015-16, unconditional transfers of tax revenues – or “untied” funds, to use official jargon– rose 55 percent, from Rs.3.38 lakh crore to Rs. 5.24 lakh crore, according to the budget’s revised estimates released in October 2015 (The budget is prepared using income estimates, typically revised after six months to account for actual tax received).

The union health budget rose six percent, from Rs.29,492.5 crore in 2013-14 to Rs. 31,274 crore in 2014-15, the year the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) presented its first budget. The cuts came in the second year of the NDA, 2015-16.

Smaller states can’t find money, therefore, cut health funding.

Although 18 states with poor health indicators, called “high-focus states”,– increased health spending in anticipation of central cutbacks, our analysis reveals how smaller states have cut health spending because they did not have the money.

Jharkhand and Odisha increased their health spending by 80 percent and 73 percent respectively between 2013-14 and 2014-15. Some states saw marginal increases; Tripura and Manipur cut health spending.

Money to create infrastructure has risen in state budgets, from 37.2 percent in 2011-12 to 50 percent in 2014-15, while funds for staff salaries and other administrative expenses fell from 62.2 percent to 49.9 percent.

“The country is close to completing its first budget cycle since the implementation of the FFC (14th Finance Commission) recommendations; any rigorous assessment of the real impact of these recommendations is difficult owing to large gaps in available data,” said a report from the Accountability Initiative, a Delhi-based think-tank. (Prachi Salve, IANS/indiaspends.org)

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)