What’s our poison, doc?
Healthcare should be seen as a crucial investment in human resources without which we cannot sustain this scorching pace of growth.Updated: May 01, 2008, 00:26 IST
When we look back at the performance of the Health Ministry under the UPA government, what comes to mind? Chances are that public recall will be that of Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’s vigorous campaigns against smoking on screen and now against drinking on screen. We appreciate the minister’s concern for the nation’s well-being. But we wish that he had paid more attention to addressing the symptoms of a healthcare system that seems to be in terminal decline. It would have been music to the public’s ears if the minister had used his persuasive skills to press for an upward revision in public health spending from the present measly 0.9 per cent of GDP. Across the country, we have the shameful spectacle of public health centres with either no staff or no equipment. This leaves those, especially in rural areas, no choice but to fork out vast sums of money for private care.
The second most common cause of debt in rural areas today is medical expenditure. The shoddy care meted out to those who cannot afford anything better is seen in the manner in which a vaccination drive against measles in Tamil Nadu has resulted in the death of several children. And this is the minister’s home state and one where medical facilities are better than in many other parts of the country. One out of every 11 children under five dies in India for want of low-cost, low-technology medical intervention. Maternal mortality that 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. With the government nowhere on the scene in public health, India’s health sector is the most privatised in the world. This effectively means that healthcare is shut off to a vast majority of people.
But the minister, regrettably, has been content to carry on crusades against drinking and smoking and the functioning of institutions like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. All this is the equivalent of giving an aspirin to a patient with virulent pneumonia. It is not good enough to rejoice in our newfound wealth when we pay scant attention to health. Healthcare should be seen as a crucial investment in human resources without which we cannot sustain this scorching pace of growth.