The Hobbling State Of The Indian Healthcare System

Posted by Sukhomay Chatterjee in Health and Life
January 7, 2018

“India becomes the fastest growing economy in the world, overtaking China”

“India jumps 30 places in the Global Competitive Index”

“Moody’s raise India’s credit rating for the first time in 14 years”

These are some catchy headlines we come across every other day. They convey the already recognized indicators of the growth miracle that India has been over the past two and half decades, and we Indians should be proud of this fact. We are, according to this 2013 report, the world’s third largest GDP (as per $PPP) and a global superpower in the reckoning.

But there is another side to this ‘growth’ story that we often tend to overlook. In the recently released Global Nutrition Report, India needs a lot to take care of.  But to my dismay, not many print or electronic media houses bothered to give it the prime time importance that it deserved. More importance was garnered first by the Padmavati issue and then by the stale banter between PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi during the Gujarat elections. These TRP hunting channels made an issue out of their every move and this important news got lost somewhere between their respective rhetoric.

The facts of the report present a gloomy picture of the health of Indians. As per the report, around 51% of Indian women in the reproductive age i.e. 15-59 years are suffering from chronic anemia. This becomes serious especially when they get married and bear children. As child marriage is still quite prevalent in India, bearing multiple children at a young age may take a heavy toll on their body. Problems like anemia thus have permanent effects on the mother’s health which are subsequently transferred to the child. The report found that about 38% of the children under five are suffering from stunted growth while 21% of them are categorized as ‘severely wasted’ – meaning they don’t weigh enough for their age. This kind of malnutrition has caused an irreversible damage to their physical and cognitive abilities. This is nothing but a blatant ruin of the positive demographic dividend that India enjoy at present.

It is simply unfathomable for a layman to understand how so many government schemes, both central and state, have achieved so less in providing basic health amenities to the most vulnerable sections of the society. In this year’s Global Hunger Index, India is at the 100th position, slipping three places since the previous year. This is lower than poorer nations like Nepal, North Korea and Iraq. This is after we administer the world’s largest food security schemes like the NFS (National Food Security) Scheme and  the Mid-Day Meal program. This brings forth the vital question of the efficacy and reliability of these schemes, which remains rigged with corruption and appalling quality of execution.

 

The data further reveals some more riveting information. On one side India accounts for around 40% of the global underweight population, on the other it also suffers from high obesity rates. As per the report, more than 22% of women and 16% of men are overweight, ranked 3rd and 5th respectively. It is notable that this is not only an urban – rich phenomenon, but it is rapidly increasingly in the rural areas as well. With the prices of healthier options moving northwards, the poor have been forced to consume cheap and unhealthy food, which is leading to wide scale obesity.

The situation is grimmer in the case of children. On one hand we have the largest population of malnourished children in the world and on the other we have around 14.4 million obese children, second only to China’s 15.3 million. Can irony be any more insulting? The main contributors to this problem are the changes in the lifestyle and food habits of children, caused by a rapidly growing middle class.

The budgetary allocation for the healthcare sector has been consistently low. This has  lead to a deplorable health infrastructure, especially in the rural areas. The allocation for the year 2017-18 is about ₹49,000, which is just 1.2% of the GDP. As per the World Bank estimates, per capita government expenditure on health in India is just US $60, as compared to US $300 in China and US $1000 in Brazil. This persistent financial inadequacy has also resulted in an acute dearth of healthcare professionals. With just six doctors and 13 nurses responsible for 10,000 people, our healthcare system reels under huge pressure with limited scope for improvement, at least in the short run.

With public hospitals in shambles, people are forced to move to the private sector where the charges are exorbitant. In spite of this, around 89% of all private medical expenses (both urban and rural) is Out Of Pocket, that is, paid by the public itself, with little or no help from the government. All these facts present just one dimension of the highly skewed growth-development relationship in our country.

We all know how critical health is to a nation’s growth, therefore it is high time we demand our rightful dues from the government – dues in form of benefits of the ‘growth’ they can’t stop boasting about. They must answer why this ‘growth’ has turned India into one of the most unequal nations in the world, where millions are forced to sleep with a hungry stomach. We must ask our leaders why our money is splurged on statues and bullet trains and not on hospitals, laboratories, doctors, schools, housing and other such necessities.

The common man today, more than the political bourgeoisie, should acknowledge his own right to lead a safe, secure and dignified life – a right which must not be denied to him anymore.