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 dieÂ in the process of bringing life to earth. As UNICEF reports, India stands responsible for about a quarter of all global maternal deaths.
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.