With roots in culture and tradition, India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Despite its richness of heritage, it is better known for its struggles as a third world country, and one of the biggest challenges that it faces: poverty.
With this issue of poverty, comes a diverse plethora of problems our people have to deal with, such as lack of sanitation and health.
The commonest perception of poverty is, in fact, malnourishment, and poor health of the people. And as the cost of healthcare rises, getting access to it is becoming a major cause of poverty in India. In other words, people who are poor and more likely to succumb to diseases don’t have access to healthcare due to its rising costs, which in turn often drives people deeper into poverty to pay off the hefty debts of crucial medicine or surgery. As someone said, “Poverty is both- a cause and consequence of poor health.’’
India—home to 276 million people who are below the poverty line– needs to do better and meet the basic needs of its population, as the records for healthcare of the poor do not provide us with a pretty picture.
Issues related to the health of 23.6% of the population are not properly covered by the media, and do not seem to be a priority amongst the politicians either; plans of affordable healthcare, or their lack were not part of any electoral campaign during the elections of 2014, and the subject was not raised by the winning or losing party even after the results were announced. The government needs to realise that health is the major determinant of the potential development of any nation. For country with a population of 1.5 billion people, the health of the citizens should be the utmost priority for the government, for it is only when our labour force is healthy and fit, that it can contribute to the growth of an economy; an unhealthy individual is equivalent to a non-performing asset for an organisation.
This indifferent attitude of the media and the government is quite disconcerting, as the recent statistics about health in India speak volumes about the effects of this negligence. For instance, in 2012, India witnessed 253 deaths per 100,000 persons due to communicable diseases alone- much higher than the global average of 178 (OECD). Moreover, according to figures provided by the World Bank India loses 6% of its gross domestic product (GDP) annually, because of premature deaths and inability to treat people of preventable illnesses.
The reason for the poor health of the average Indian can be traced to the low levels of public investments in preventive health facilities such as sanitation and waste management, and medical care facilities, such as primary health centres and health professionals. Moreover, health expenditure by major states has remained stagnant or risen only marginally since 2010 (except Delhi and Rajasthan, where it has risen by over 2%). Delhi remains India’s best performing state, directing 10.1% of its total expenses towards improving healthcare and making it more affordable, since 2010-11.
As a result, the cost of healthcare usually remains impossibly high for the poor, and has become an unsurpassable obstacle for them while seeking proper treatment. This has led to many delays in getting treatment, thus aggravating their health problems.
Drawing inspiration from former president Barack Obama’s ObamaCare initiative in the United States, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched the Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Scheme (AB-NHPS). According to him, the national health insurance scheme will be rolled out on a pilot basis in some states, while the full-scale roll-out of the project was expected by September’s end. If all goes well, this could be the beginning of a brilliant health scheme initiative by our country’s government.
Though the government has started playing a pro-active role to ensure the health of all citizens, it also needs to expand the definition of healthcare to include its social determinants, like nutrition, sanitation and social equity, and define it similarly for the public.
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