By Ankur Chhabra:
Healthcare is not only a service but a fundamental right of every citizen of the country.
The Constitution of India guarantees the ‘Right to Life’ but the citizens and authorities are responsible for upholding these rights. In the present day and age, India’s poor health outcomes are posing as one of the most pressing developmental challenges. India remains a laggard in health outcomes not only by World Health Organisation (WHO) standards but also by the standards of the developing world.
Deaths plague the Indian healthcare ecosystem. Deaths from preventable communicable and non-communicable diseases, poor infant and maternal mortality rates due to malnutrition, anaemia etc. Even though strides have been made as far as economic growth and development is concerned which has improved the poverty situation in India, progress in improving health outcomes have been dismal.
Recent incidents such as that of a man carrying his wife’s body home on his shoulders from a mortuary or that of a Kanpur boy dying on his father’s shoulder as the latter ran from pillar to post to get medical assistance, is very painful and disappointing.
As unfortunate as they are, these are some of the few cases that have got media attention. This is actually the order of the day in not only some of India’s poorest rural areas and urban slums, but also some of the richest states where there is discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and colour when it comes to getting access to basic public services.
In modern India, there is a dire need to reverse this trend in every aspect of life, particularly the healthcare sector. Medical negligence and apathy, poor quality of healthcare services, lack of hospitals and the shortage of doctors and nurses, low hospital bed density, doctor-to-patient ratios are greater issues that need to be addressed.
We could try to change the above-mentioned factors than conveniently putting the blame on low government expenditure on healthcare, which undoubtedly and inarguably is quite low even in relation to some of the Sub-Saharan African countries.
Even after seven decades of independence, it is unfortunate that health has remained an issue that isn’t paid much attention to in India. The primary reason behind poor health profile of an average Indian is the abysmal public health scenario. Low and regressive public health investments in preventive, promotive and curative health care facilities have been plaguing India’s public health sector for ages now.
There are two sides to every coin. Low Government expenditure is only one side of the problem. A greater problem that most certainly has a negative impact on the health scenario in India is the prevalent poor quality of public health facilities, especially primary health care (primary health centres and community health centres).
Health inequalities is another critical factor here, stultifying the growth and progress made in the healthcare domain, if at all. Due to high relative income inequality and poverty, the poor have to depend on the inadequate public health facilities vis-à-vis expensive private healthcare facilities in the country.
This is not so straightforward, since, the poorest of the poor receive fewer benefits from the public health system than their better-off counterparts.
So, in essence, the Indian healthcare sector grapples with twin issues – healthcare unaffordability and healthcare inequality. Thus, the lack of reliable public healthcare services and the absence of health insurance further compel the poor to depend and spend heavily on the only alternative available i.e. private healthcare. This translates to the high proportion of out-of-pocket expenditure (OPE) on health. High healthcare costs often lead people to delay treatment, aggravating health problems.
Lastly, medical negligence, corruption and laxity on the part of a few medical professionals, staff workers and other personnel in the public health ecosystem must be brought to justice. The Government must also be accountable. Politicians and ministers cannot just get away by launching inquiries, setting committees and condemning such careless acts in the medical field. There must be greater democratisation of health issues via increased participation of medical doctors, citizens, media and the judiciary alike.
Our political leaders, media, citizens, you and me need to question the regrettable state of affairs plaguing the Indian healthcare system. The Kanpur boy, named, Ansh, who died on his father’s shoulder was just 12 years old. He was in the sixth standard and a very bright child. He lost his life because a hospital denied him a stretcher.
I appeal to the health fraternity of our country and all those who care about social and public health problems that our country faces today, to make cautious and conscious decisions. We must be more conscientious. There is a general erosion of empathy in our society today.
More than saving human lives, humanity needs to be saved in India. If every citizen of the country is considerate of this simple rule, all other perils of the healthcare ecosystem in India shall, slowly but surely, be solved. I hope such careless acts don’t cost anyone’s life in the future. Health is serious business. Healthcare delayed is healthcare denied, and India needs to ensure affordable and accessible healthcare to all, at all times!