It is a welcome change to see Chinese President Xi Jinping meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad, as opposed to other heads of states who have avoided Gujarat. China is an economic, military and scientific powerhouse and to become one India needs to learn a lot from China.
First, we need to invest in basic quality education. China might not have produced many Nobel Prize winners, but it has invested heavily in primary, secondary and college education. In India, our primary education is struggling in spite of World Bank loans, secondary education and colleges are weak and research is unheard of in many of our universities.
Second, China invested in public health way back, starting with the famous barefoot doctors. Premier Mao Zedong embarked on major public health drives and developed an accessible rural and urban health system with strong foundations of public health and preventive medicine. China also created a public health cadre with five years of training that laid the strong foundations of public health and preventive medicine. The public health system helped create an equitable and accountable healthcare service in rural areas. Now the system is being reformed to insurance-based universal healthcare. Indian primary healthcare and public health are far from satisfactory due to gross under-funding and poor management. India abolished the three-year trained licentiate medical practitioner course after Independence in favour of a five-year MBBS course. Now India is thinking of reintroducing three-year programme. We never created a public health cadre due to which our health programmes are poorly planned and implemented.
Third, China focused on family planning to control population growth. Its one-child policy and other coercive methods could be considered as extreme by many, but they had an economic and social purpose. Family planning, basic health services and education empowered Chinese women to join the organised labour force in large numbers, which further empowered them. We many not want to copy China’s extreme steps, but India must not forget that family planning is a women’s empowerment tool.
India can learn a lot by looking at how China has been able to empower women and improve gender equity.
Fortunately, today we have a prime minister who is decisive, fast and one who developed his state well before moving to Delhi. I am sure Modi and his government have the wisdom to learn from China’s success formula to transform the lives of millions of Indians through education, public health, infrastructure, water and sanitation. Xi’s visit should catalyse mutual learning between two great nations and cultures.
Dileep Mavalankar is director, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar.
The views expressed by author are personal.