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Born only to die

Maintaining and improving public healthcare requires a level of political commitment, which the Minister for Health and Family Welfare in Kerala clearly, and regrettably, lacks.

india Updated: May 07, 2007 04:46 IST

Close to 40 newborn babies have died in a hospital in Kerala from infectious diseases. It’s a scandal, yes, but one that has been exacerbated beyond all proportions by the stand taken by the state government, in particular, the Minister for Health and Family Welfare, PK Sreemathi. On the directive of the chief judicial magistrate of Thiruvananthapuram, who was hearing a private complaint, the minister has been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. While this may be overkill, she is unlikely to win much sympathy with her appalling statement: “I am not reacting to this, I am not at all interested and I don’t care about the case.” In a country where we have come to expect little or nothing from the public healthcare machinery, both the deaths and her nonchalance still have the ability to shock. This is because we are confronted with this horror, not in Bihar or UP, but a state that has won laurels for its successful model of public healthcare.

Kerala’s record in providing healthcare has been even more spectacular than the success of its literacy drive. With education has come greater awareness of health issues, and the state has backed this up with health infrastructure that is accessible and at a low cost. It is one of very few states that has shown sincerity in following a healthcare model based on social equity. And, Kerala is a showcase state as far as its health indicators like infant mortality and life expectancy go. In fact, they are comparable to those of developed countries. But are the unhygienic conditions in Sree Avittam Thirunal, the state-run hospital where the babies died, and the health minister’s apathy indicators that all is not well?

With increased life expectancy, and a larger proportion of ageing population with higher morbidity rates, the state government should have progressed to facilitating low-cost, quality services focused on a changing patient profile. Yet, a sizeable share of healthcare demands in Kerala is now being met by private institutions, whose services are perceived to be more efficient and of better quality, even if more expensive. Maintaining and improving public healthcare requires a level of political commitment, which Ms Sreemathi, and the government that has defended her without remorse, clearly, and regrettably, lack.

First Published: May 07, 2007 04:37 IST