India needs to improve its healthcare systems, and the recent Gorakhpur tragedy is just more evidence of the same. The question is not just of spending more bucks, it is about providing a reasonable turnkey system that the public can rely on.
Almost every statistic we have on health concerns is depressing. Take the condition of the children of our country- almost half the deaths of children below age 5 that occur can be attributed to undernourishment. Almost 44% of children are underweight, and 72% of our infants are anemic. In most of these cases, the cause is a lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene, and a lack of basic needs such as clean water and well-managed sewage and waste services.
The government needs to focus on preventive care- upping the quality of our existing infrastructure such as waste management that contributes directly to health, and on curative care simultaneously. It needs to ensure quality, quantity, accessibility, availability and affordability of its services and goods. Today, those who can afford it, prefer private healthcare services over government-run ones, which gives private players a chance to monopolize the system, and hike up the prices of services- the last two decades have seen a decline in the share of public hospitals in treating patients. The government-run systems offer sub-par quality of medicines and services, yet, to the poor and needy, something is better than nothing, and they settle with whatever is available.
We need to realise that investing in health means investing in the future- an unhealthy workforce is but a burden to the economy. We currently spend about 1.15% of our GDP on healthcare- this needs to increase to at least 2.5% over the next few years to make a significant difference. Investing in primary care and awareness will help avoid diseases and complications requiring tertiary treatment, subsequently reducing future costs and setbacks.
The lack is also felt directly in the current doctor-patient and nurse-patient ratios that we make do with. For a well-working national public health system, we need more medical and nursing schools and health workers, particularly in rural areas. The current scenario sees the existing number of doctors trying to make do with what they have, and managing their hospitals while tackling health issues. This needs to be addressed immediately- we need health management professionals to run programs and facilities effectively.
A lot needs to change. The government needs to tackle this issue with a multi-pronged approach, considering all the various aspects to medical care. From quality medicines and services, basic infrastructure and sanitation to greater awareness among the populace and improved bedside manner, large strides need to be made. However, this is a need of the hour, or our population of 1.3 billion will end up being a liability, instead of becoming the strength that it has the potential to become.