Patients dying due to a failure of oxygen supply in an intensive care unit in the Capital, routine infant deaths in State-run hospitals in Kolkata — these are just some of the worrying examples of how our State medical facilities are run. This when it knows that the majority of Indians has no option economically but to use such hospitals.
Most public health clinics do not have even the basic facilities or trained staff to deal with ordinary ailments, let alone something which requires expertise. Even in top of the line government hospitals, conditions are quite abysmal. Take for example one of the Capital’s premier hospitals. What was meant initially to be a referral hospital is now being used as a general facility. There is simply no choice given the volume of patients. Hygiene standards, which should be non-negotiable in a hospital, are thrown to the winds owing both to apathy and the inability of the staff to cope with the volume of patients.
The doctor to patient ratio is very skewed with one doctor for every 1,700 patients. The ideal should be one to 500. Our spending on public health is among the lowest in the world. It was not so long ago that there was a report of stray dogs wandering around in a maternity ward in a Kerala, one of the best states in healthcare facilities. If nothing else, at least in enlightened self-interest, the government ought to take the issue of public health more seriously.
The demographic dividend that we are hoping to cash in on will amount to little if we do not have a healthy population. Life expectancy has gone up and with it morbidities. This is another challenge for public healthcare. Today, an illness could push a family into debt because it is likely to depend on private care which at times can be usurious. But all is not lost if the State wakes up. It is still not too late to treat the worrying symptoms in our public healthcare system before they become terminal.