India is the 7th largest country in the world and the 2nd most populous country after China. A large part of it’s population lives on less than $2 a day. The standards of living and hygiene is very unsatisfactory, especially in rural areas. All these reasons, coupled with a sub tropical climate, makes India a hotbed for diseased people. And it’s not just the poor who suffer, the rich suffers too. However, the difference is that the rich have a way out! They have money and therefore can afford expensive medical treatments (there is, however, one problem which plagues them too). But the poor people have no where to go. At a time when medical costs are rising world wide, India is emerging as a popular medical tourism destination thanks to its relatively low cost and better success rates. However, it is a kind of paradox that the health care services still remain out of reach not only for the poor, but also the middle class people. Even the rich lose their richness after getting out of a hospital! Compounding the problem is the paltry number of beds and qualified doctors available to provide treatment- 178.7 Hospital beds per 1,00,000 people in the urban areas, and an astonishingly low 9.87 beds per 1,00,000 people in rural areas.
Making matters worse are the sky high prices of various medical tests (ranging from the basic X-rays, blood tests, to various other complicated tests) and the ever increasing price of drugs. An average Indian cannot afford such expensive tests and medicines, let aside the operational costs, and other expenditures, and is therefore left with no other option but to go to local healers, who sometimes act as life takers rather than givers.
People who can afford it, and are lucky enough to get into a good hospital, pay through there nose and end up losing all their savings on treating themselves or their family members/relatives. However, the rich have hope as the private health care system is opening up and it will translate into more options for them. But it will be cost effective or not if still a question!
What about the large chunk of India’s population? The onus is surely on the Government for this one. First, it needs to increase the number of MBBS seats from a paltry 12000 to a more substantial number so that it is able to achieve more qualified doctors. Also best education opportunities for MBBS students needs to be ensured by our Government.
Secondly, the Government should reduce the price of medical tests and medicines, without compromising on quality. They should initiate tax reduction or better still tax waivers for the drugs and other medical expenditures. Government should keep in mind that the health of the citizens is the strength of the nation! Also, it must remember that it is its duty to ensure that people from all strata of the economy are able to access healthcare services. And such a task is achievable!
If the Government says no, it should learn something from Mr. Devi Sheety, a humble man who has made world class healthcare services available, at reduced prices, to everybody. Narayana Hrudayalaya, state-of-the-art trauma hospital Sparsh, and an ophthalmology hospital Narayana Nethralaya are world class hospitals offering their its services at affordable rates. He has also started an Insurance scheme “Yashasvini” which is the world’s cheapest, comprehensive health insurance scheme at just Rs.5/- per month premium. This brings us to the debate as to why can’t the Government provide such cheap services and a proper medical insurance for the whole population of India? Mr. Devi Shetty has proved that such a business is profitable (300 crore profit this year). So why can’t the government replicate his model????
The health infrastructure and the health scenario in India is very bleak. The Government has to take some concrete measures and implement them immediately! Increase in the number of hospitals, both in urban and rural sectors is needed urgently. A reduced price of essential drugs, medical equipment and tests, and operations is also necessary. Along with these steps, the Indian Government needs to work on the lines of the developed Nations and get in place a health security policy and bring in an affordable and effective health insurance scheme for all the citizens, among other things. This is a big issue because the life of an individual is the most valuable asset, and I can’t imagine the helplessness of people when they cannot afford to get their loved ones treated due to lack of funds, or non availability of medical equipments or doctors! If India is to truly achieve the aim of becoming a developed nation in the years to come, it needs to put its medical infrastructure in order before proceeding ahead, because a nation of weak men and women cannot deliver.
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