The top two reasons for not seeking medical treatment, across the population, are not poor ‘Access to Healthcare’ in India

“About 1.8 million children under age of 5 die in India every year; 68,000 mothers die due to maternal causes, and 52 million children in the country are stunted”.

“With 70% people living in more than 600,000 villages across rural India, not more than an estimated 30% have access to modern medicine”.

Such sensational headlines could be fallacious at times and may tend to divert the attention of all concerned from some of the key healthcare issues in India. We are indeed too negative in our approach towards a problem solution process. All stakeholders interested in improved healthcare facilities are continuously engaged in an eternal blame game. Government blames the industry and the industry blames the government and so on. In this unfortunate logjam scenario since last several decades, any possibility of breaking it will require active interference by a ‘Cerebral Braveheart”

Moreover, taking advantage of this situation, some groups of people want to progress their vested interests by projecting a ‘Weaker India’ and pontifying with crocodile tears.

Let me now try to explore these issues with hard facts.

Access to ‘round the year’ healthcare facilities in India:

As reported by the Government of India in 2004, access to healthcare infrastructure and services for the rural villages in terms of percentages were as follows (Source:India Health Report 2010) :

  1. Primary Health Centers: 68.3
  2. Sub-Centers: 43.2
  3. Government Dispensaries: 67.9
  4. Government hospitals in urban areas: 79
  5. Private Clinics: 62.7
  6. Private Hospitals: 76.7

I reckon, after implementation of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and National Urban Health Mission (NRUM), this situation prevailing in 2004 has improved. However, the scope for further improvement in all these areas still remains very high.

Hence, the shrill voice highlighting around 65% of population of India does not have access to healthcare or medicines seem to be motivated and highly misplaced.

‘Access to Modern Medicines’ is improving in India:

In addition to the above facts, CAGR (volume) of the pharmaceutical industry since the last ten years has been over 10%, leaving aside another robust growth factor being contributed through the introduction of new products, every year. Encouraging growth of the Indian Pharmaceutical Market (IPM), since the last decade, both from the urban and the rural areas certainly signals towards significant increase in the domestic consumption of medicines in India.

IPM maintained a scorching pace of 16.5% growth in 2010. A recent forecast of IMS highlights similar growth trend in 2011, as well.

In addition, extension of focus of the Indian pharmaceutical Industry, in general, to the fast growing rural markets clearly supports the argument of increasing ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ in India. The improvement in access may not exactly be commensurate to the volume growth of the industry during this period, but a major part of the industry growth could certainly be attributed towards increase in access to medicines in India.

For arguments sake, out of this rapid growth of the IPM, year after year consistently, if I attribute just 5% growth per year, for the last nine years over the base year, to improved access to medicines, it will indicate, at least, 57% of the population of India is currently having access to modern medicines and NOT just 35%, as I wrote in this blog earlier.

Unfortunately, even the Government of India does not seem to be aware of this gradually improving trend. Official communications of the government still quote the outdated statistics, which states that 65% of the population of India does not have ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ even today. No wonder, why many of us still prefer to live on to our past.

Be that as it may, around 43% of the population will still not have ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ in India. This issue needs immediate attention of the policy makers and can be resolved with a holistic approach. A robust model of healthcare financing for all socio-economic strata of the population, further improvement of healthcare infrastructure and healthcare delivery systems are the needs of the hour.

So called ‘Diseases of the Poor’ are no longer the ‘Leading Causes of Death’ in India:

Unlike popular belief that diseases of the poor are the leading causes of death in India. The office of the Registrar General of India (2009) highlights a totally different scenario, where the top five leading causes of death in terms of percentage, have been reported as follows:

  1. Cardiovascular diseases: 24.8
  2. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): 10.2
  3. Tuberculosis: 10.1
  4. Cancer: 9.4
  5. Ill-defined conditions: 5.3

Thus the diseases of the developed world like cardiovascular diseases, COPD and Cancer cause over 45% of the total deaths in India, whereas Tuberculosis, Malaria, Diarrheal and digestive diseases cause around 23% deaths in the country.

The key reasons for not seeking medical treatment are not poor ‘Access to Healthcare’:

As I wrote before, the key reasons for not seeking medical treatment across socio-economic status in the country are not predominantly ‘Poor Access to Healthcare ‘. The following data will vindicate this point:

Reason Rural Poorest 20% Rural Richest 20% Urban Poorest 20% Urban Richest 20%
Financial Reasons 39.7 21.2 37.2 2.3
Ailments not considered serious 27.2 45.6 44.3 84.4
No Medical facilities 12.8 10.0 1.6 _
Others 20.3 23.2 16.9 13.3
Total 100 100 100 100

(Source: India Health Report 2010)

Conclusion:

Thus even if the government ensures ‘Access to Healthcare’ to 100% of the population of India by taking all drastic infrastructural, policy and delivery measures, still a large section of the population both rich and poor and from urban as well as rural India will not seek medical treatment assuming many of their ailments are not serious enough. Such a situation will definitely not materially improve the healthcare scenario of India, adversely affecting the economic progress of the country by a robust productive population.

This necessitates continuous disease awareness campaigns with active participation of all stakeholders, including the civil society across the country, sooner rather than later, in tandem with all measures as will deem necessary.

By: Tapan J 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.

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