World Health Day

Achieving Universal Health Coverage in India

The health goal under the Universal Health Coverage is unarguably the most important agenda in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. All member countries including India are putting their best step forward to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Though India has achieved much progress in medical technology, 70% of rural India still doesn’t have access to quality health care facilities. Even in urban areas, health care facilities are not at par to deal with the country’s burgeoning requirement. Over 55 million people in India are pushed to poverty every year as they have to pay for their own health and hospitalisation expenses. These people are not covered through any form of health protection. Besides spending their own income and savings, people borrow money or sell their assets to meet health care expenses.

With a vision to make equal access to quality health care for all, India  has rolled out several schemes in the recent years. Highlighting the importance of health care mechanism, the recent union budget has shown some serious commitments for a healthy society with an environment of health assurance. There has been an increase of 16.65% in the budget allocation for the health sector. By its cover, the budget allocation appears to be ideal, however, there are some challenges at the ground level. For instance, the uneven geographic distribution of poor families in the country makes it difficult to find out the real targeted beneficiaries of the numerous initiatives launched.

One solution to reach out to the farthest corner in rural areas or tribal dominated space could be to utilize Telemedicine. Although, the internet is hard to reach in these areas, a broadband line would be cheaper than building a community health centre. With proper internet training to medical staff it would provide easy medical assistance saving the health care costs for patients in remote areas. Telemedicine provides a solution in real-time remotely without a doctor actually being there. This does not work for prolonged diseases but majority of the problems could be easily addressed as to which medicine the patient should get or what could be the correct course of action needed at the moment.

There are no dearth to the numerous health-care centres owned by the State Govt. However, a massive shortage of doctors, nurses, specialists and even medical equipment turn these health centres no better than just buildings. Acute shortage of beds is also faced in many state-owned hospitals. A study in the British Medical Journal quoted ‘India has one government doctor for every 11,528 people and one nurse for every 483 people’. This clearly shows that infrastructure with human resource must be at the heart of healthcare to make Universal Health Coverage a success.

A public-private partnership could also improve the healthcare system in India. Private hospitals can definitely use their knowledge and skills with government spending. Some policy changes like patients undergoing treatment in a government hospital can be transferred to a private hospital with their doctor’s recommendation. At least 20% reservation should be made in private hospitals for the poor section and regular audit and monitoring by the Govt bodies of the same can ensure effective utilization of the reservation. Another solution could be a standardized rate for diagnostic tests so that no private hospitals can exceed a certain ceiling of the cost and private hospitals that claim incorrect costs can be penalized.

If we intend to solve India’s healthcare system at the grassroots level, every day should be celebrated as ‘World Health Day’. With the theme ‘Universal Health Coverage: Everyone, Everywhere’, the onus lies on all governing bodies to make coherent efforts to change things efficiently. We are equipped with the necessary resources but we need to put them in the right place and order- Hope we do it soon enough.

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