The country’s first public health institute, proposed to be set up in the capital, will give a much-needed shot in the arm to India’s healthcare system. The Delhi government has reportedly cleared all formalities to allot land for the proposed central medical university and autonomous medical institute. The brainchildren of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), these institutes form the vanguard of several world-class autonomous institutions that will hopefully come up across India. According to the PHFI, they will offer long and short-term courses and conduct research on different aspects of healthcare, spawning a new cadre of professionals who are “managers of health and not just of diseases”.
One of the biggest problems that prevents India from improving the quality and reach of public health-care is the dearth of qualified personnel. There are currently some 700,000 doctors and 800,000 nurses in the country, but very few public health experts who can actually draft and implement large-scale health-care strategies. Indeed, there cannot be a sadder commentary on the state of the healthcare system than the Medical Council of India (MCI)’s latest report listing the names of medical colleges in the country. Out of 262 medical colleges, more than 60 — both private and government — were apparently denied certificates of continuance by the MCI, after the council members found deficiencies in terms of aspects like infrastructure and teaching faculty. No wonder then that all the country’s existing health-care institutions put together produce barely 375 public health professionals a year. Contrast this with just two schools in the US — Johns Hopkins and Harvard Medical School — that routinely produce more than 200 public-health specialists annually.
As a result, India is saddled with a limited support structure and applied research capability. This has led to the emergence of poor health indicators, a rising disease burden, the resurgence of communicable diseases, and the rise in lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases. It is imperative for India to build a health system that is responsive to community needs, and the PHFI has done well to come up with a roadmap to systematically address these challenges.