A US model being tested in two Indian states could address rural health care problems in five critical areas, its initiators say.
"We are running pilot projects in one village in each district of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar to address diabetes, heart disease, deafness in children and carcinoma of the cervix and prostrate," S. Balasubramaniam, president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), said during the working session on health at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas here Sunday.
"Once the 15-month project is over, we will submit a detailed report on how the model can be extended to rural areas throughout the country," he added.
AAPI, which is currently celebrating its silver jubilee, represents 45,000 physicians of Indian origin in the US.
According to Balasubramaniam, the organisation could also transfer the knowledge, skills and experience of its members to India.
"Knowledge transfer needs a proper system set-up, training of the trainers, and monitoring in a cost-efficient manner," he maintained.
Detailing AAPI's work in India, Balasubramaniam said its emergency medical services (EMS) project implemented in Pune had helped reduce mortality rates by 35 percent and was now being extended to Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
AAPI has been operating 17 free clinics for many years and has also been running two burn treatment centres.
This apart, a recent initiative to adopt tsunami-hit villages for one-time $3,500 and annual expenditure of $800 had already received commitments from 25 AAPI members, Balasubramaniam pointed out.
Speaking at the session, Planning Commission member Sayeda Hameed painted a dismal picture of the Indian scenario and said health had been earmarked as a priority sector for the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2007-11).
"While India has made significant advances in life-expectancy, maternal mortality and eradication of some diseases, in indicators such as infant mortality, malnutrition and others, the country lags even other developing nations.
"Seventy percent of India's population lives in rural areas, 19 crore (190 million) still under live the poverty line. Access to clean drinking water, sanitation, and nutrition is difficult. Thirty percent of the population is estimated to suffer from malnourishment," Hameed pointed out.
"To address these issues, primary health access during the 11th Plan period will be measured through the travelling time to reach primary health centres, which will considerably benefit women in particular," she stated.
Hameed also urged the Indian community overseas to pay particular attention to malnutrition and anaemia among adolescent girls.
Strongly advocating Indian systems of medicine such as ayurveda, unani, siddha, and homeopathy, she pointed out their practitioners "form a good resource base".
"Training can help use this base for local health delivery. Communities must also be involved with large scale replication of successful civil society models," Hameed maintained.
Eminent cardiologist Naresh Trehan, who moderated the session, said steps need to be taken for doubling infrastructure in healthcare, necessitating investments of $25-30 billion (Rs.1-3 trillion) in the next 10 years.
"Providing access to basic healthcare facilities requires 750,000 more hospital beds, 540,000 more doctors, and 750,000 additional nurses," he stated.
Toward this end, the Indian Healthcare Federation had suggested more mobile health clinics through which remote or small villages can be provided medical facilities without a doctor being permanently stationed there, Trehan stated.