The Centre’s go-ahead for an additional 3,791 post-graduate seats in medical colleges has not come a moment too soon. But this is not likely to solve the problems of India’s healthcare system, given that we only have a doctor per 2,800 people when the internationally recommended number is 1,500. None of this bodes well for a nation whose healthcare system seems to be in terminal decline.
The minister for health, Ghulam Nabi Azad, seems quite silent about the fact that he needs to push for an increase in public health spending from the measly 0.9 per cent of GDP at present. The fact that we don’t have enough doctors is one problem. That they have little incentive to go to areas that need them most, the rural parts of the country, is another.
What we need to address, and urgently, is the fact that we have little by way of public health centres with either staff or equipment. This means that we have left out our rural areas where people have no choice but to shell out huge amounts of money for private healthcare. It is now well known that the second biggest cause of rural debt is medical expenditure.
Mr Azad has done well to declare that the increase in post-graduate doctors will increase the number of teachers. But it is a little puzzling how he has come to the conclusion that this would automatically mean that the number of MBBS seats could be expanded. One out of every 11 children under five dies in India for want of low-cost, low-technology medical intervention. That maternal mortality is unacceptably high is due to the same reasons.
We hear nothing of the need to step up measures against communicable diseases that claim so many lives every day. These are easily preventable if people have access to sanitation and preventive healthcare and this means a doctor on hand. With the government nowhere on the scene as far as public health is concerned, India’s health sector is among the most privatised in the world. This means that a vast majority of people have no access to healthcare. Referral hospitals like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have become a haven for the influential to recuperate. We need very badly to incentivise healthcare so that more people can think of it as a productive profession.
The best from medical sciences today seem to be joining the private sector. It is not good enough to celebrate our new-found wealth when we pay scant attention to health. Healthcare is a crucial investment in human resources without which we cannot sustain our pace of growth.