India heading for comprehensive healthcare crisis: Amartya Sen

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New Delhi, July 10 (IANS) India spends just a little over one per cent of its GDP on healthcare and this is leading the country into “a comprehensive healthcare crisis”, according to Nobel laureate and noted economist Amartya Sen, who has called for greater allocation on healthcare in India and highlighted what he calls “three general failures” in the country’s healthcare segment.

“The fact that India allocates only a little over 1 per cent of its gross domestic product on public healthcare contrasts sharply, for example, with nearly three times as much by China. We reap as we sow, and cannot expect to get what other countries achieve by allocating much more resources — as a proportion of their respective levels of the gross national product– to healthcare,” Sen writes in his elaborate foreword to “Healers or Predators? Healthcare Corruption in India”, which will be launched here on Thursday.

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Sen, a recipient of the Bharat Ratna in 1999, further claims that the entire organisation of Indian healthcare has become “deeply flawed”, leading the country into “a comprehensive healthcare crisis”.

“Despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India ranks among the poorest achievers of good health. The shortfall of India’s health achievements compared with those of, say, China or Thailand is large and has been growing larger. Even within South Asia, Bangladesh and Nepal have overtaken India in health accomplishment, including in life expectancy.

“If India’s bad record in healthcare is not much discussed in the Indian press, this neglect does not indicate the presence of a tolerable level of healthcare in India, but reflects instead the narrow reach of the Indian news media, with its traditional neglect of elementary education and healthcare,” writes the 84-year-old economist.

Sen has extensively written on welfare economics and social justice and in the given book, he also highlights the plight of patients suffering at the hands of “private caregivers”.

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He says private clinics “will not budge” without “the promise of payment”. Noting that even though some public services are offered freely, Sen highlights that many critically important services are denied unless the patient can cough up demanded sums, which can be “unaffordable” for many underprivileged Indians.

Taking a dig at the Medical Council of India (MCI), which aims to provide quality medical care to all Indians through promotion and maintenance of excellence in medical education, Sen blames the organisation for not only failing to perform its duties but also for its designated role of looking after medical colleges.

“In particular, in the use of the power — and responsibility — to set up new private medical colleges, there seems to be clear evidence of fairly straightforward corruption,” he claims.

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He ends the over 1,500-word foreword to this “splendid, if depressing, book” with what he calls “three general failures” in India’s healthcare segment — “the amazing neglect of primary healthcare compared with health interventions needed at later stages”; “India’s hasty and premature reliance on private healthcare, which goes hand in hand with neglect of public healthcare”; and the deficiancy of “informed public discussion on healthcare” in the country.

Published by Oxford University Press, “Healers or Predators? Healthcare Corruption in India” has been edited by by Samiran Nundy, Keshav Desiraju and Sanjay Nagral.

“This hard-hitting volume”, according to the publisher, “shows a mirror to the society and, more specifically, to those associated with the health sector — on how healers, in many cases, are shifting shape to becoming predators”.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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