Healthcare in India: Status Quo and The Way Forward

Healthcare in India is an area of deep concern and needs a lot of cumulative thinking by policy makers and Practitioners. If there is only one hospital bed for every 879 people; this is a worrying situation.

The people of India prefer to visit private centers as compared to public centers; and this is equally true for urban areas as well as rural. Even if there are public health care centers in urban areas; there are not enough skilled staff, thus making it impossible for people to get good service.

What is appalling is that in spite of India being a leader in exports of generic medicines, more than 50% of the population cannot access low cost affordable drugs because of poverty and inaccessibility.

No this is not because it is just a state of mind, even though Rahul Gandhi thinks so; it’s a sad reality.

The life expectancy of an average Indian is around 65-67 years, which has almost doubled from the time of independence, but it is important to know that the population has increased four fold since then. The infant mortality rate is high in India, around 46 infants die for every 1000 births in less than one year.

Diseases such as hepatitis, dengue, malaria and tuberculosis are still a scare in India in spite of the innovations in Global Drug Discovery in these areas.

Sanitation is a major problem as well; it is estimated that more than 50% of the population defecates in the open. Such facts are so depressing that the thought of India becoming a superpower seems a distant dream.

Mr. Narendra Modi had recently expressed concern on this very fact and mentioned that constructing good sanitary facilities tops the list of his priorities over and above building temples. This statement was not taken positively by many people but the hard statistics reflect the gravity of the situation and the need for quick ACTION.

While talking about healthcare; it is important to address Women’s issues as well. When a woman is malnourished during her pregnancy, it is the cause of an unhealthy child, which in turn leads to an unhealthy nation. What can be done to diminish this problem? Eradication is something that will not happen overnight; we have to start with step one.

Countering the problem

Connecting to people at the grass roots level and educating them about clean and healthy lifestyles should be the topmost priority and that can only be done by Mass Contact programs initiated by the Central and State Governments. Villages must be provided with proper infrastructure facilities so mobilization is not a problem. Making free medicines available and setting up medical centers in every village so that people do not have to travel large distances during emergencies is one of the obvious things which has to be done. Here we are talking of an uphill task that requires steady and increased funding.

Currently India spends just over 1% of its GDP on public healthcare. Increasing this spending to about 2.5% to 3% can improve conditions enormously. Various suggestions have been given by the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) which was constituted by the Planning Commission of India in October 2010. One of their recommendations was Universal Health Coverage in the country; but it has encountered a lot of criticism. Unless and until public healthcare is made available to majority of the people; a healthy nation would just be a dream. Currently around 70% of the urban population and around 60% of the rural population rely on private healthcare; due to which diagnosis and treatment of some serious diseases is often not taken care of by the Public health care system because of the cost factor.

Providing clean water, proper sanitation, knowledge, efficient infrastructure, cheap or free facilities and changing the mindset of the people are some of the counter measures which can improve the current miserable and sorry state of affairs. We need an overall elevation in the standard of living and a modern thought amongst people to deal with these challenges.

Some Good Examples…

In Gujarat, the Health Care department’s core functions include providing primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare to all the citizens along with proper infrastructure to facilitate that care. Creating awareness, educating people and monitoring food and drugs through legislation form the core functions of the department. Gujarat health department also emphasizes emergency services and the 108 service centres in the state have seen a lot of success. The lives of many citizens have been saved by the highly efficient service centres. Healthcare in Gujarat has seen a lot of improvement in the past 10 years with schemes such as Chiranjevi Yojana, Beti Bachao Abhiyan, Janani Suraksha Yojana, Mamta Abhiyan, Bal Sakha Yojana, and others.

The state of Madhya Pradesh has implemented a lot of water supply schemes for its citizens. Other noteworthy schemes include the National River Conservation Plan, Urban Sewage Projects, and Urban Water Supply Projects etc. The Goa Government has also implemented many schemes for the people of that state. The emergency service centres, casualty and emergency service, cardiac services, blood bank services etc. are a few to name. Apart from these services; programs to control diseases, iodine deficiencies, AIDS and other STDs and Rural Health missions have been implemented. Schemes such as family planning, Bal Hriday Suraksha Yojana etc. have been implemented in Chhattisgarh.

Where To Go From Here?

With high chances of Mr. Modi coming to power in 2014; it would not be wrong to assume that with the available resources and within a specific time frame; an efficient implementation of Comprehensive healthcare Reform might become a reality. His thought of toilets first and temples later; has to be viewed by a broader perspective.

Putting the right effort in the right places will result in proper utilization of the healthcare budget and every citizen of India will be able to enjoy the benefits of it with easy access to medical services of every possible kind. Working from the very bottom level upwards can create a healthy nation where people are able to lead healthy lives.

Aditya Shah, an engineer based in Texas, is passionate about Indian politics. He is an avid reader and loves his new passion, writing.

By Aditya Shah

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