Healthcare spends in India:
Although total health spending of the nation is around 6 percent of its GDP being one of the highest within the developing countries of the world, public expenditure towards healthcare is mere 0.9 percent of the GDP and constitutes just a quarter of the total healthcare cost of the nation. According to a World Bank study, around 75 percent of the per capita spending are out of pocket expenditure of individual households, state and the union governments contribute around 15.2 percent and 5.2 percent respectively, health insurance and employers contribute just 3.3 percent and foreign donors and state municipalities contributing the balance of 1.3 percent.
Out of this meager allocated expenditure only 58.7% goes for the primary care.
Four essentials in Primary Healthcare:
When it comes to Primary Healthcare, following are the well accepted essentials that the government should effectively address:
1. Healthcare coverage to all, through adequate supply of affordable medicines and medical services
2. Patient centric primary healthcare infrastructure and networks
3. Participative management of healthcare delivery models including all stakeholders with a change from ‘supply driven’ to ‘demand driven’ healthcare program and policies
4. Health of the citizens should come in the forefront while formulating all policies for all sectors including industry, environment, education, deployment of labor, just to cite a few examples.
It is unfortunate that most of these essentials have not seen the light of the day, as yet.
The key reason for failure:
Inability on the part of the central government to effectively integrate healthcare with socio-economic, social hygiene, education, nutrition and sanitation related issues is one of the key factors for failure in this critical area.
Moreover in the healthcare planning process, health being a state subject, not much of coordinated planning has so far taken place between the central and the state governments to address the pressing healthcare related issues.
In addition, budgetary allocation and other fiscal measures, as stated earlier, towards healthcare both by the central and the state governments are grossly in adequate.
National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) – a good beginning:
To address this critical issue, the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) was conceived and announced by the government of India. NRHM aims at providing valuable healthcare services to rural households of the 18 States of the country namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Orissa, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh, to start with.
The key objectives of this novel scheme are as follows:
• Decrease the infant and maternal mortality rate
• Provide access to public health services for every citizen
• Prevent and control communicable and non-communicable diseases
• Control population as well as ensure gender and demographic balance
• Encourage a healthy lifestyle and alternative systems of medicine through AYUSH
As announced by the government NRHM envisages achieving its objective by strengthening “Panchayati Raj Institutions” and promoting access to improved healthcare through the “Accredited Female Health Activist” (ASHA). It also plans on strengthening existing Primary Health Centers, Community Health Centers and District Health Missions, in addition to making maximum use of Non-Governmental Organizations.
NRHM is expected to improve access to healthcare by 20 to 25 percent in the next three years:
To many the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has made a significant difference to the rural health care system in India. It now appears that many more state governments are envisaging to come out with innovative ideas to attract and retain public healthcare professionals in rural areas.
On January 11, 2010, the Health Minister of India Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad, while inaugurating the FDA headquarters of the Western Zone located in Mumbai, clearly articulated that the NRHM initiative will help improving access to affordable healthcare and modern medicines by around 20 to 25 percent during the next three years. This means that during this period access to modern medicines will increase from the current 35 percent to 60 percent of the population.
If this good intention of the minister gets translated into reality, India will make tremendous progress in the space of healthcare, confirming the remarks made by Professor Sir Andrew Haines, Director, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, as quoted above.
Is NRHM scheme good enough to address all the healthcare needs of the country?
NRHM is indeed a very good and noble initiative taken by the government to address the basic healthcare needs of the rural population, especially the marginalized section of the society. However, this is obviously not expected to work as a magic wand to resolve all the healthcare related issues of the country.
Are patients the pawns of the game of chess or the victims of circumstances or both of the socio-economic systems?
Currently, some important stakeholders of the healthcare industry seem to be using the patients or taking their names, mainly for petty commercials gains or strategic commercial advantages. They could be doctors, hospitals, diagnostic centers, pharmaceutical industry, activists, politicians or any other stakeholders. It is unfortunate that they all, sometime or the other, want to use the patients to achieve their respective commercial or political goals or to achieve competitive gains of various types or just for vested interests..
‘The Patient centric approach’ has now become the buzz word for all – do we ‘walk the talk’?
There does not seem to be much inclusiveness in the entire scheme of things in the private healthcare system, excepting some odd but fascinating examples like Dr. Devi Shetty, Sankara Nethralaya etc. As a result, excepting the creamy layers, patients from all other strata of society are finding it difficult to bear the treatment cost of expensive private healthcare facilities.
I personally know a working lady with a name Kajol (name changed) whose husband is suffering from blood cancer. One will feel very sad to watch how is she fast losing all her life’s savings for the treatment of her husband, pushing herself, having no alternative means, towards an extremely difficult situation day by day. There are millions of such Kajols in our society, who are denied of effective public healthcare alternatives to save lives of their loved ones.
If all stakeholders are so “patient centric” in attaining their respective objectives, why will over 650 million people of India not have access to modern medicines, even today? Is it ALL for poor healthcare infrastructure and healthcare delivery system in the country? If so, why do we have millions of Kajol’s in our country?
Consumer awareness and pressure on healthcare services and medicines in India will increase – a change for the better:
With the winds of economic change, rising general income levels especially of the middle income population, faster awareness and penetration of health insurance among the common citizens, over a period of time Indian consumers in general and the patients, in particular, like in the developed countries of the world, will start taking more and more informed decisions by themselves about their healthcare needs and related expenditure through their healthcare providers.
As the private healthcare providers will emerge in India, much more in number, like the developed world, they will concentrate not only on their financial and operational efficiencies exerting immense pressure on other stakeholders to squeeze out the best deal at the minimal cost, but also to remain competitive will start charting many uncharted frontiers and explore ways of enhancing the ‘feel good factors’ of the patients through various innovative ways… God willing.
All stakeholders of the healthcare industry need to think of inclusive growth, not just the commercial growth, which could further widen the socio-economic divide in the country, creating numbers of serious social issues. As we know, this divide has already started widening at a brisk pace, especially in the healthcare sector of the country
It is hightime for the civil society, as well, to ponder and actively participate to make sure that the inclusive growth of the healthcare sector in India takes place, where like primary education, primary healthcare should be the ‘fundamental right’ for ALL citizens of the country.
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.