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An unhealthy situation

Alarm bells should start ringing when millions of dollars are invested in health initiatives but which do not yield commensurate outcomes when implemented.

india Updated: Sep 09, 2007 21:59 IST

It’s a bit of a scam that the political ramifications of an unflattering report on corruption in health funding should point to its importance. The recently leaked 2005 World Bank investigation that shows rampant corruption in a Bank-funded project for reproductive and child health in India has sparked off ‘some’ interest. Unfortunately, the ickiness seems to be more over the functioning of the bank rather than over the severe operational discrepancies in India that the report has thrown up. While damage control exercises are underway, there are enough questions about the rampant corruption in healthcare that have been left unanswered.

This is not simply a matter of following the money trail. Alarm bells should start ringing when millions of dollars are invested in what seem to be holistic health initiatives but which do not yield commensurate outcomes when implemented. Moreover, we should be rattled by the fact that the measure of ‘acceptable’ levels of corruption varies from country to country — and yes, this is rather high for India. In a few weeks time, a second report conducted by the World Bank’s Department of Institutional Integrity should be out. Cynicism aside, can the Indian government be expected to seriously address the findings of this report, whether faces turn red or not? Will New Delhi make it at all public? After all, citizens are only familiar with Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’s penchant for pushing his case, trivial as the pursuits may be — the AIIMS fiasco of signing degrees, his publicity-hankering anti-smoking drive, just to mention two.

Aid to India in a gamut of public health areas is a multi-billion dollar industry from a staggering number of world bodies. The appalling state of public health, where health indicators dodder one step forward, two steps back,

and rural health services remain pipe dreams, is obvious for all to see. Where the faultlines lie are also all too obvious. But can the government muster the courage to push through the closely monitored regime required to ensure that the poor receive what is meant for the poor?