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Does India’s Health System Meet The 21st Century Requirements?

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In the past, the world has witnessed various health crises, with the bubonic plague and the Spanish flu being the most fatal amongst them. These crises killed an uncountable number of humans.

In the 21st century, we have faced the worst health crisis yet again and are trying hard to cope with it. Yes, I am referring to the coronavirus pandemic that has now developed some deadly variants as well, with Omicron being the latest detected one. We have already seen how the Delta variant in the second wave created havoc in our lives.

In this article, I’ll talk about health and its aspects, the current status of the health infrastructure in India, and various initiatives needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.


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India has a rich history in healthcare and medicines. Traditional medicine systems of India, like the Ayurveda, is known to the entire world. Atharvaveda contains a cure for 99 diseases. The Charak Samhita, written by Charaka, contains knowledge of the Ayurveda. Similarly, Sushruta Samhita mentions surgical instruments, plastic surgery and rhinoplasty.

Now, coming to the modern health infrastructure, it finds a resemblance to ancient medical knowledge. India, on one hand, is leading in medical research, vaccine production, pharma industry, and on the other hand, it has high rates of infant mortality. There is a lack of health infrastructure and many children in India suffer from anaemia, bone deformation and stunted growth.

The recent pandemic has highlighted the importance of a strong, inclusive and resilient healthcare system that India needs to meet according to the 21st-century requirements.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as physical, mental and social well-being, and not just the absence of illness. So, health is a multidimensional concept. It includes freedom from both communicable and non-communicable diseases, freedom from mental or psychological stress, and the ability to constructively engage with people and society.

India in the 21st century faces a dual problem. We are yet to declare ourselves free from diseases such as malaria or tuberculosis. HIV, diabetes and various types of cancer are common. Another issue is that of malnutrition. According to the latest Global Hunger Index report, India ranks 101 with a score of 27.5. This is quite concerning. Millions of children are stunted and wasted, putting the future of India at risk.

man wearing a mask
The recent pandemic has only added salt to the wound, portraying a dismal picture of our health system.

The recent pandemic has only added salt to the wound, portraying a dismal picture of our health system. According to research, the doctor-population ratio in India is 1:1457 against the WHO recommendation of 1:1000. Severe scarcity of hospital beds, ventilators and oxygen cylinders is also concerning to our health situation.

The globalised world, moreover, has made easy the spread of infections caused by viruses and bacteria.

India, since post-Independence, has tried to focus on public health and infrastructure. Article 47 of the Indian Constitution states the provision related to improvement in public health and raising the level of nutrition. Various top medical institutions like AIIMS were opened in megacities through subsequent five-year plans.

In recent times, the National Health Policy, which tries to meet the needs of the demands of the 21st century, was adopted. Also, various schemes including the Ayushman Bharat, POSHAN Abhiyaan, Jan Arogya Yojana etc. try to bring quality healthcare for all. Recently, the health card scheme was launched to create electronic medical records for each Indian.

Another silver lining is Mission Indradhanush. India produced many Covid vaccines, enough to help needy countries like Africa, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc. under a humanitarian initiative undertaken by the Indian Government called Vaccine Maitri.

Vaccine bottle
Image credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Here is what more can be done in order to make India’s health infrastructure more resilient, self-dependent and inclusive.

  • For emerging technologies like gene therapy and telemedicine, India needs to invest more in research and development. Collaboration can be done along with like-minded countries and institutions like the WHO.
  • We need to shift to preventive and promotive healthcare. The traditional medicinal systems can also be emphasised. Also, we can promote universal healthcare and through the PPP model. We can build hospitals and related infrastructure in every town located remotely.
  • The use of data and Artificial Intelligence needs to become a reality in order to detect and predict diseases.
  • A people-centric policy should be made that is more inclusive, easily available, and affordable.
  • Community participation in healthcare should be emphasised.

As the saying goes, “He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope has everything”.

So, India needs to devote more proportion of its expenditure and investment on health and education, as only educated and healthy minds can make intelligent choices, thus making India play a positive role in making the 21st century as Asia’s century led by Indians.

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