The COVID-19 outbreak has made us realize the importance of a robust healthcare system that is ready to deal with any health crisis. It is time to understand the healthcare system in India, the challenges it faces, and ways to make it accessible for everyone…
When it comes to defining healthcare in India, we see a spectrum of contrasting landscapes. At one end of the spectrum there are swanky multi-specialty hospitals boasting of world-class facilities and best of doctors catering to the elite urban class. At the other end are the so-called health centres, which are basically dilapidated outposts in the remote areas of rural India, struggling with providing even basic medical care to the patients.
So, let us understand the healthcare scenario in India.
Healthcare versus health care: What’s the difference?
While most of us use these two terms “healthcare” and “health care” interchangeably, there is a huge difference between the two. Health care means a set of actions by a person to maintain or improve the health of a customer. Healthcare is the whole setup-industry, facilities as well as the field that enables logistics and health care for patients. Hence, while the former refers to an action that will help patients to recover, the latter is a system.
Types of healthcare
Every patient requires different care as per their ailments. While some require specialized care to ensure recovery, there are others who require minimal care. So on the basis of patient condition and requirements, healthcare is divided into -:
Primary care (General practitioners): This is the first stop for any patient when he feels unwell or notices signs of a flu, stomach ache, injury, viral infection, skin rash, etc. They access your problem and facilitate coordinating your care among specialists.
Secondary Care (Specialists): When your primary care provider refers you to a specialist, you are then in secondary care. Here you will be taken care of by a doctor who has expertise in your problem area. Specialists focus either on a disease or a function of any organ. For example, a cardiologist focuses on the heart, podiatrists focus on feet and ankles and oncologists are trained to treat cancer.
Tertiary Care (Hospitalization): Tertiary care is when you are admitted to a hospital and require a higher level of specialty care. This type of care requires highly specialized equipment and expertise. It is when some patients have to undergo surgeries.
Now that we have understood the types of healthcare available, let us explore the history and challenges that plague the Indian health setup.
Watch: Bill Gates on Indian healthcare & Modi’s efforts to improve it
Historical background of healthcare in India
India has a rich heritage of medical and health science that can be traced to the Vedic times. Atharvaveda, one of the four Vedas, is said to have developed into Ayurveda, a traditional form of holistic medicine. An analysis by Health Management says that historically, some of the most advanced hospitals of ancient India were built by King Ashoka (273-232 BCE). The analysis adds that the advent of modern medicine in India happened during the 17th and 18th centuries by European Christian missionaries. The report adds that the British opened the first modern hospital for soldiers in Chennai in 1664 and the first medical college in Calcutta in 1835.
Over the past few decades, healthcare in India has improved both in terms of quality and quantity. The infant mortality rates have dropped, life expectancy has increased and diseases like smallpox have been eradicated. Though there are numerous hospitals, clinics and dispensaries available across India, they are unable to cater to the vast population of the country. Below are some challenges that the Indian healthcare system face.
Challenges faced by Indian healthcare system
- Lack of awareness: Due to widespread poverty and illiteracy, there is a huge section of the population that lacks basic awareness about health issues like breastfeeding, contraception, memory disorders, mental health, etc.
- Lack of access: A report by the Indian Journal of Community Medicine throws light on the dismal state of medical facilities in parts of rural India. Quoting a study of six states in India conducted in 2012, the report says that many of the primary health centers (PHCs) in rural India lacked basic infrastructural facilities such as beds, wards, toilets, drinking water facility, and regular supply of electricity.
- Lack of trained personnel: There is a dearth of trained doctors especially in rural India. As many qualified doctors make a beeline for a life of comfort and luxury in metropolitan cities. A 2011 study estimated that India has roughly 20 health workers per 10,000 population.
- Lack of affordability and accountability: Though private sectors boast of excellent doctors, specialists, and facilities, it is very costly and unaffordable for the common man. The public sector provides low or no cost but the quality of medical care is poor.
So, now that we have understood the challenges that plague the Indian healthcare setup, let us also discuss if getting proper healthcare is a right of every citizen or a privilege for few.
Getting proper care is still a privilege in India. Only those who can afford get the best of treatment and care. For the majority of the population, even getting basic first aid is a struggle. Healthcare is a basic need for every individual. Like developed nations, it is necessary to consider it as a right and not a privilege. Only when the government and private sector will join hands, will we be able to make healthcare available to everyone.