Thursday, August 5, 2021

Healthcare, India could not care less!

  • India is not among 40 malaria free nations
  • Malaria, TB take their toll even now
  • India spends least on healthcare
  • Policies are announced but not implemented

Our big neighbour China has more population than ours. It has become a malaria-free country. World Health Organization (WHO) has announced this good news on Wednesday. Thus, China has joined a group of 40 malaria-free countries in the world. Sri Lanka, a much smaller country than us and which has just started making strides in development is one of them. This island country became malaria-free on 5 September 2016 when WHO made it public. Among the forty countries that had banished malaria from their boundaries were Algeria, Mauritius, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Albania to Britain and most of the European countries. South American countries such as Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Uruguay also joined this band of nations. However, malaria is still creating havoc in our country.

Adivasis who live in remote forest areas are dying of malaria beyond the count. The government says it has plans to make the country free of malaria within ten years from now. Looking at the pitiable living conditions of Adivasis, one wonders if what the government promises is feasible. The economic and social disparities among the rural people also show their affect on the healthcare.

TB is another scourge

Tuberculosis (TB), besides malaria, is another scourge in the country. India’s TB report 2020 shows while it had afflicted 26.9 lakh people, 79,144 of them succumbed. 24.04 lakh cases were registered in 2019. Which means, the cases registered in 2020 were 14 per cent more than that of 2019. But unofficial figures show a lot more deaths. As against this background, the announcement made by union health minister, Dr. Harshvardhan, that the government would make India free of TB within five years, by 2025, appears rather strange.

WHO says every year 4,36,000 persons across the globe are dying because of TB. If 40 thousand people died because of TB in 2029, the number of those afflicted by the disease was 20.64 lakh. Of them, 34 per cent were women and 59 per cent were men. The disease is widely prevalent in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. India is in the first place as far as TB is concerned followed by Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa.

Malnutrition, anemia stunt growth

Malnutrition is another major problem facing the country. The Nutrition World 2020 Report revealed that malnutrition is the main reason for 50 per cent of the people being unwell. It also said about 50 per cent of the children lack proper bone growth because of the nutrition problem. Among the affected, the number of Dalits and Adivasis is more. They also suffer from anemia. This problem is more in the States like Maharashtra, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. According to the National Family Health Survey, 48 per cent of the Dalit children suffer from malnutrition.

Countless people died in pandemic

In these conditions we were witness to the situation where a pandemic like Corona hit the people. It is yet to be assessed how much damage Corona would leave behind. Among the people afflicted by Corona, those who have lifestyle problems such as blood pressure and diabetes lost their lives. There is no count on this score. Besides all the problems, the attitude of the government regarding healthcare is relegating public health to the least priority area. This is a severe problem. We claim to be making rapid strides of progress. But we have no farsightedness. We ceased to think of these problems based on public safety, lives of the people etc.

Health policies seldom implemented

Our health indicators are looking backwards compared to other countries in the world. The sole reason for this sad state of affairs is that we do not have a specific health policy. We routinely formulate health policies for name sake. Even those policies are safely kept in almirahs if they are old or in the computer servers if new. On these lines we prepared our health policy in 2017 and two more policies earlier. But they were seldom implemented. Even the so called comprehensive health policy formulated in 2017 remains unimplemented. The policies are afflicted by technical problems and there was no specific attempt at implementation. Moreover, the contents of the report would surprise the reader. “Some people say health should be considered a fundamental right. But the infrastructural facilities in our country’s health sector are not in keeping with that goal,” the report made it clear.

We spending a pittance on health sector

Moreover, the health policy maker said the allocation for health in the budget is 1.26 which is a measly amount. This has to be at least 2.5 per cent if new infrastructural facilities are to be in place. Many countries in the world are spending much more than we do. America is spending 17 per cent, Brazil 9.2 per cent, Denmark 10.1 per cent, Canada 10.7 per cent of their GDPs. Therefore, these countries can face any kind of health problems that might arise. The reason for India to be found wanting when faced with the second wave of Corona was lack of resources. Centre has blamed the States. It is nothing but blaming others for its own inefficiency and incompetance. After Corona pandemic ceases, the Centre and the States have to sit and review the basic facilities we have and the entire system of health in vogue.

Only two ways before the nation

We have to evolve a comprehensive new health policy in place of the policy made in 2017. The roles of the Centre and the States have to specifically stated in the new policy. In view of the experience gained during the pandemic, the governments shall not leave things to the people. Instead, the governments should take up the responsibility of public health. Every citizen should get medical treatment free of cost. The economic crisis due to Corona has thrown crores of people back into poverty. People are not in a position to pay huge bills to the corporate hospitals. There are only two ways open before the nation – the governments taking up the complete responsibility for public health or the people dying in large numbers.

Laxmaiah Mallepalli
Mallepalli Lakshmaiah is a special officer of Buddhavanam project and founder chairman, Centre for Dalit Studies. He writes a weekly column for Sakshi, a Telugu daily. He is a Dalit intellectual, Ambedkarite and a Buddhist.

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