Millennium Post

Health is wealth

To secure a healthy nation, the government must be active in providing affordable and quality healthcare to its entire population

Since childhood, we have been familiarised with the aphorism that 'health is wealth'. No wonder only a healthy person can work and contribute to her/his personal, family and society's development. It is, therefore, important that our population is equipped with a sound mind and fit body. For this, we need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, good nutritious food to eat, proper means for disposal, a reasonable house to live in, opportunities for education and so on. This is a task that the state has to accomplish for all its citizens.
Healthcare investment is a long lasting asset for a country and society. Some 6.3 crore people are pushed below the poverty line every year in our country due to the out of pocket expenditure on health. They inevitably land up in abject poverty. The middle classes too have to borrow to meet their health needs in case of a serious illness. In such a situation, it is important that we debate on this issue day in and day out and protest for the betterment of healthcare facilities. But, it hardly happens.
We rank 130 among 188 countries on the human development index. Our ranking in the hunger index is abysmally poor. We rank 100th among 119 countries. This is a very precarious situation. That a hungry poorly nourished person is more likely to fall ill needs no explanation.
India is a country with the highest TB burden, with World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics for 2011 giving an estimated incidence figure of 2.2 million cases of TB for India out of a global incidence of 9.6 million cases.
Similarly, India is one of the 15 countries in the world to have the highest cases and deaths because of malaria, WHO's 2017 World Malaria Report revealed. The report put India along with 14 countries from the Sub-Saharan African region, with 80 per cent of the world's cases and deaths. Though there has been a decline in the rate of incidences from 2010 to 2016, from 76 down to 63 cases per 1,000 of the population at risk, India's numbers remain a problem due to an alarmingly low surveillance. India also had the lowest funding average per person at risk, from 2014 to 2016 in the region, while it is on track to reduce malaria.
Diarrheal disease is another important public health problem among under-five children in developing countries. Total diarrheal deaths in India among children up to six years of age were estimated to be 158,209 and proportionate mortality due to diarrhoea in this age-group was 9.1 per cent.
Until recently, India had more diabetics than any other country in the world, according to the International Diabetes Foundation, although the country has now been surpassed in the top spot by China. Diabetes currently affects more than 62 million Indians, which is more than 7.1 per cent of the adult population.
These are the issues which concern us all. They need regular discourse. But the political and social discourse hardly covers health. People end up abusing the system but do not care to think beyond personal gains to make governments fulfil their responsibilities. This helps those in power escape their responsibility to meet the healthcare needs of the society. Every now and then judicial intervention gives some relief, like in the case of coronary stent pricing where the court order forced the government to reduce their prices. But this too ended up without any monitoring thus, not serving the desired benefit.
It is high time the polity wakes up on the issue. Society becomes more conscious and proactive. Philanthropy is good but not the end. The ultimate solution to our health problems lies in proper planning of the health issues coupled with sufficient budgeting.
(Dr. Arun Mitra is Senior Vice President, Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The views are strictly personal)

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