In his annual speech in 2008, PM Manmohan Singh said that the most challenging task facing healthcare is serious shortage of doctors and nurses in India’s rural areas. According to official figures (keep in mind they are just official figures!) there is a shortage of over 16,000 doctors in rural India!
If we look at the situation closely we see that there is general unwillingness among practitioners of medicine to practice their skills in villages due to lack of infrastructure, opportunities and low salaries. However the problem is more deep rooted than it appears. There are only 34,000 seats available per year for graduating in MBBS. So,there is only 1 doctor for 30,000 people! And a large number of youngsters prefer to migrate abroad because of better opportunities and facilities provided there. So there is an overall dearth of doctors in India, though this problem is more prevalent in rural areas. Now the shortage of doctors in villages is not the only issues. It has been seen that doctors who are posted in villages fail to perform up to the set standards. Then there is problem absenteeism among the staff, lack of required resources for treatment (beds, medicine etc.), cases of one doctor for every medical ailment and so on.
Now the question is that how do we ensure quality health services to our brethren residing in rural regions of our country. One suggestion that often comes up is that you make it a part of curriculum for students pursuing medicine to provide their services in rural areas for one term. This may help in overcoming the problem of shortage to some extent. However will this help in ensuring quality as well? One can never say. The most effective solution to the problem should be increased incentives to doctors to set up their clinics in rural areas. In the long run this can be done by overall development of these areas in terms of infrastructure and the like. But we have got to act in short term as well. To make things better in short term doctors can be provided with higher salaries, extra services over and above the salary and more flexible environment for working. Also government needs to make the implementation process more effective. More strictness in case of performance deficiencies and absenteeism needs to be practiced. Moreover government should also ensure timely provision of needed resources. Also it needs to keep an eye on potential leakage spots and scope for corruption in this system of rural healthcare.
We need to understand that villages and small towns are reservoirs of human resources. And access to basic health facilities is indispensible to turning these potential reservoirs into full grown resources.