Towards a Healthy Rural India
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of our healthcare system. It shows that our healthcare system is severely lop-sided, where only people living in metropolitans get proper treatment and those in rural areas are denied it. It is the cruel truth that all advanced healthcare facilities in India are situated only in big cities. Rural residents, who need advance treatment have to come all the way from their homes to cities covering hundreds of miles. Many of them are forced to spend sleepless nights on the footpaths near super specialty hospitals like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) or Tata Cancer Research Centre in Mumbai, in anticipation of quality treatment. Apart from the physical pains caused by the disease, villagers have to face this added ordeal as most of them do not find a qualified medical practitioner within a 50 kilometer radius from their village.
Such a situation could easily be avoided if our policy makers attached due importance to primary healthcare facilities. By constructing one or two hospitals in and around a big city, policy makers believe that they have performed their duties creditably. There is no denying that population density in big cities is much more than in rural areas. There is nothing wrong with having proper healthcare facilities in cities however, the problem starts when such facilities come at the expense of primary health care in villages. Questions should be raised as to why all novel steps regarding healthcare are centred in metropolitans. Why are our villages deprived of the same facilities?
A recent report stated that in the absence of proper healthcare facilities, villagers who got infected by the Covid-19 lethal virus had to spend at least INR 10,000 each, even for a mild version of the disease which requires no hospitalisation. So if four members of a poor family get infected, the family will have to spend INR 40,000, which is equivalent to the salary of a person from a middle-income group. Presence of proper healthcare facilities in rural areas could easily have reduced the expenditure to a great extent. There is no bigger irony than the fact that while a modern city like Delhi has Mahalla Clinics (local dispensaries), many of our villages are yet to avail the service of even post-graduate medical practitioners.
The need of the hour is to improve the country’s healthcare facilities. There is no need for the government to build hospitals in cities, as such places will automatically attract private investment. So the thrust should be on building proper healthcare facilities in rural areas, which should have all the necessary equipment and medical personnel to handle any critical situation. Rural centres should not wash their hands by referring patients to hospitals in the city. India needs to build a healthcare system from the grass root level up, not the other way around.