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We Need Free Healthcare In India, Because ‘Unhealthy’ Development Is Bound To Fail!

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By Krishangi Singh:

A woman moans out in pain as her labor goes on. Her cries echo unheard, as she lays on the cot in a remote village as her economic conditions force her to bear with the torment. Suddenly, her death will become a phenomenon that will put the spotlight on everything that is wrong with the current healthcare system, but before the week ends, before her family can even mourn her death, it will all be forgotten. She is one more life lost among the 1,25,000 women who die in the process of bringing life to earth. As UNICEF reports, India stands responsible for about a quarter of all global maternal deaths.

free healthcare

Last year on July 16th, 23 children lost their lives due to poisonous mid day meal served at district school of Saran, Bihar. Food poisoning, a treatable condition, proved fatal for these children as they were referred to three different hospitals in a private vehicle instead of an ambulance. Here as well, government services proved inadequate and the rural residents could do nothing, due to economic constraints, to save these precious lives. Since this, numerous more incidents have taken place where children have died not only due to carelessness of government officials but also majorly due to lack of low-priced and accessible health care services. As WHO reports, India accounts for 1/3rd of world’s children who have no access to basic healthcare facilities.

We live in a country that is enchanted by the idea of progress and is going to great lengths to achieve it. Yet, I wonder how it is prudent to race towards development while a substantial proportion of our population still ends up losing their lives to treatable diseases. As we talk about holistic growth, the most basic necessity of the hour is certainly free and accessible healthcare in all rural and urban areas.

Free healthcare is essential for the entire country as the existing structure is too minuscule, and thus highly expensive. When our constitution grants equal right to life to each citizen of the country, then how can we deny them the right to a healthy life? India has approximately one doctor per 1700 people and with such a staggering ratio, comes along the extremely expensive treatment facilities. Business Today reports that about 70% of the 20 million blind people in India can be treated with a simple surgery, which remains unaffordable to them.

As we move to the topic of incurable diseases, the picture gets darker. India is one of the chief producers of high quality drugs and yet it’s own citizens fail to procure it at a reasonable price. Medicines for diseases such as those for cancer, diabetes and AIDS were sold at a price inflated by 6.3% in 2013, according to the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA). With health insurance available to less than half the citizens as of now, the dream of sustaining a healthy or at least a tolerable life becomes a far-fetched reality. As if having healthcare options available was not an uphill enough task, procuring medicines at an affordable price becomes a larger challenge.

Preetha Reddy, managing director, Apollo Hospitals Group says, “The healthcare sector in India should be given national priority status. Our healthcare infrastructure needs huge augmentation, and the government should support this with multiple tax incentives. Improving primary and secondary care is crucial, but in addition, the new government must look into making quality tertiary care a lot more accessible and affordable to all in need.”

When we approach the idea of free healthcare services, it is not simply limited to opening a mere one story clinic that looks like an abandoned warehouse, but expanding to the notion of a well-equipped hospital with adequate staff, which is approachable to all sections of the society equally. Till yet, the available Public Health Centers in various rural locations are lacking the basic facilities of bedding and equipment mostly along with a reluctant staff that feels no obligation to attend to the incoming patients. As of now, according to the WHO, the public health expenditure by the government is a mere 4.1% of the national GDP. Needless to mention, this scanty amount can never sustain the healthcare costs of over a billion residents of this country.

Our healthcare system lies in ruins. Since National Health Mission in 2005, no major initiatives have been introduced to look over the health sector in the country. What further puts our entire system in a bad light is the fact that India ranked fifth in medical tourism for hosting 400,000 medical tourists from all over the world in 2012. Why is it that we are willing to provide cheap and effective healthcare to everyone around the world but not our own citizens?

For a developing country, a sound and healthy workforce is not optional. Free healthcare might seem like an extreme load on the country’s economy for the moment, but the return to this investment will be a hale and hearty population working all the more effectively to boost the economy.

Cheaper cellphones and shinier cars can wait, but the overhaul in our healthcare schemes cannot. As we move on to take our multivitamin pills, a few more of those 63 million children in India resign to their grievous fate.

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  1. Damien

    I come from a country with free universal healthcare and it is such a relief. I broke my arm, went to the hospital, got patched up, no one spoke about money or insurance which is a headache when I go abroad. When you are sick or wounded you do not need extra stress “Does my insurances cover that?” “Do I have enough money? Should I cancel the order for the washing machine?”

    Also doctors are entirely focused on the well being of the patient not on insurance paperwork or any other administrative headache.

    As for pregnancy we closely follow up the mothers-to-be and the mothers for their well being, for the well being of the child that is the future of the country.

    Free universal healthcare is a part of making a great country.

    1. Krishangi Singh

      I definitely agree with your statement. An injured man needs his rest and peace to recover which he certainly cannot achieve while he struggles to pay his medical bills or persuades the insurance companies to cover his expenses. The blunt fact of it is that no sorts of injury or disease or pregnancy related issues are tended by the healthcare authorities without patient’s struggle. Here, wealth solely decides your health.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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