Why So Sad, Doc?

A doctor is of prime importance in any country. I recently went to meet my friend who is working in a government hospital in Mumbai. At the OPD there was a big queue of patients and so I didn’t disturb him. I waited for half an hour and then left with some thoughts in my mind. As I was returning, I realized the importance of a doctor to each of us. Each doctor there was looking after 5-6 patients in a span of 10 minutes and trying his best to help the patients.

A doctor is compared to God but I wonder why a doctor has to undergo so much stress. This stress is related to shortage of doctors and other medical professionals in the country and the assault on them if they make any small mistake. There has been numerous incidents where a doctor has been attacked or a hospital been vandalized when a case goes wrong. The government has failed to stop such assaults. Leave that aside, the most important thing that bothers me as a citizen of the country when India is marching to achieve Vision 2020 is the shortage of medical professionals.

The Planning Commission Report 2008 has thrown some light on the present manpower crunch plaguing the Indian healthcare industry, which will be further exacerbated by the high demand for Indian healthcare professionals around the world. According to a Planning Commission report, while India is short of six lakh doctors, 10 lakh nurses and two lakh dental surgeons, Indian doctors who have migrated to developed countries form nearly 5% of their medical workforce. This shortage affects the efficiency of the doctors as they are over burdened. At the same time, they are paid so less a remuneration that it furthers dampen their spirit.

There are numerous reasons for the same. The entrance for medical studies is so tough in the country that if 100 students get through for MBBS courses, only 10 manage a seat in PG course and 1 in super specialization courses. This is because there are very few seats available. Reservations on these less seats make it more pathetic. This leads to brain drain and till date our government has not addressed the problem with seriousness it should have. If the things are not taken care of right now then probably after a decade we will hardly find a doctor. According to the report, the doctor to patient ratio stands at six per 10,000 people— much below than that of Australia (249:1), the UK (1,665:5) and the US (548:9). The shortage of medical practitioners is acute in states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand with just two doctors for 1, 00,000 people, according to another study. The figures are worse in the rural areas.

The need of the hour is to immediately focus on the solution rather than mulling on them. We need to set up more medical, dental, paramedical and nursing colleges, but also to substantially increase the number of seats in the existing colleges. Moreover, there should be encouragement for more private participation because I have full belief that government of India won’t be able to address the problems on its own because of politics and bureaucracy involved in each step. We need to build world class infrastructure. The government has some plans in the 11th Five year plan to open six AIIMS-like institutions and upgrading 13 existing medical institutes, besides 60 new medical colleges and 225 nursing colleges. But whether they materialize on time remains to be seen.

There are projections that the Indian healthcare industry would become a $ 75 billion industry by 2012 with medical tourism reaching $ 2 billion in the same span. These are the rosy figures but with current situation I doubt whether we will be able to enter this predicted golden-era.

Rishabh Srivastava

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