Aayushi Lakhapati, Co-Founder, CHRO and, Chief Health Officer of 23 BMI elaborates on the issues that have plagued the healthcare sector in India and how India can learn from the current pandemic and improve upon them
While the Coronavirus outbreak continues to wreak havoc in developed countries with way better healthcare facilities, India is realising the weakness of the Indian healthcare system and is sensing the urgency to fix it. India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the second most populous country. Though there have been advancements and development in multiple areas, the healthcare system is grossly inadequate and lacks the capacity and power to provide quality infrastructure and facilities to the citizens. This is pretty evident from the number of COVID-19 tests been carried out in India.
Provision of healthcare equipment: Indian healthcare facility very often experiences shortage of essential medical equipment. For example, there aren’t enough ventilators across India to help Corona Virus patients. A special government fund should be allocated to manufacture / import safety and testing kits, ventilators and necessary equipment.
Medical personnel: As promulgated by the WHO, the recommended doctor patient ratio is 1:1000. Unfortunately, India still lags in achieving the desirable ratio. As per the latest survey, there are only 1.1 hospital beds, 0.7 doctor and 1.3 nurses per 1,000 people. Shortage of medical professionals, nurses, staff, etc. is the basic problem in India. To overcome this, special budgets on medical and nursing colleges and technical training centres should be assigned. This would help increase the number of open seats or even open new medical institutions across the country. The more the seats, the more skilled medical professionals available, willing to practice and serve the country.
Accessibility: India is a densely populated country with a vast number of people residing in rural areas. Though the urban population is well connected and has a comfortable access to medical facilities, the rural counterparts struggle with that. Accessibility implies physical reach to a hospital or a medical facility within 5km of your residence or workplace. The rural areas are not well equipped with medical centres, supply and availability of drugs, enough beds, clean toilets, labour rooms, imaging centres, etc. Moreover, finding and accommodating skilled manpower is a challenge too. It is important to analyse the geographical, financial and social barriers to provision of quality healthcare in such areas in terms of these parameters and an initiative should be taken to address these. For example, the doctors should be paid well enough and incentivised, provided better living conditions to motivate them to practice and serve in the rural areas.
Healthcare affordability: The private healthcare facility in India is not very economical for a common man, especially allopath. The private hospital bill, the cost of drugs, the cost of services is quite high for a common man to afford. Though there are public healthcare facilities available, they aren’t maintained very well, hygienic or well equipped and are often perceived. Public healthcare is usually not the first choice of people unless private facilities are totally unaffordable. One way of solving this problem is by scaling up the government expenditure of health to boost the infrastructure and quality of public healthcare facilities so it becomes comfortable and the preferred choice of people. Also, the national health insurance schemes and public health policies should be rolled out making sure every citizen is well educated about them and has enrolled for the same.
Awareness and education: Despite the improvements across the spectrum of health in India in the past few years, health awareness and education still remains poor. The vast majority of the population has low priority for health because of the lack of awareness. There have been constant efforts to improvise the medical facilities and infrastructure, but there’s minimal awareness of health conditions, causes and symptoms, preventive measures, implications, nutritional awareness, etc. For example, how many people in our country are well aware of the health effects of being overweight or obese? It may sound simple, but obesity is the major cause of multiple health concerns like diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, etc.
Hence, there should be efforts to enhance awareness levels and focus more on control and preventive measures. Health education should be made compulsory right from school. Not only that, it should be made available to every individual irrespective of gender, location and financial condition. Besides, several health awareness programmes can be held to increase awareness amongst the non-school going population. This could help individuals stay well informed about the constant research and advancements in the health industry thereby helping control the occurrence / spread of diseases.